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Opponents of legislation targeting drag performers voice concerns

Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
Drag queen Public Universal Cuaima speaks to a crowd of protestors after the House Judiciary committee passes House Bill 2186, which would make some performances of drag illegal.

The hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday morning booed after watching Republican Rep. Kevin West’s House Bill 2186 pass with a vote of 5-2.

The original language of the bill would have outright banned drag performances, including drag queen story hours, from being held in public where minors could see them. However, the amended bill specifies such performances cannot be “harmful to minors,” which under Oklahoma statute includes nudity, sexual conduct or sexual excitement, or “sadomasochistic abuse.”

Republican Rep. Judd Strom, who voted against the bill with Democratic Rep. Jason Lowe, questioned if the bill would threaten a parent's choice to take their child to a drag queen story hour.

“We work a lot in this building on parent choice,” Strom said. “For years we have said that there is nothing more sacred than a parent and their right to raise their child however they want.”

Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Nicole McAfee said the message the bill sends is harmful to 2SLGBTQ+ Oklahomans.

“We know this rhetoric extends harm to all of our two-spirit, transgender and gender-nonconforming community,” McAfee said. “And so, even though our legislature doesn’t allow us to speak on the record or give testimony, we wanted it to be clear that there are a lot of people in opposition to this harm.”

Among the protesters were several drag performers, including Busty Springfield — the founder of a drag queen story hour in Norman — who said story hours provide safe spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ youth.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for us to provide safe spaces for young queer people, and their parents and their families to better understand themselves and who they are," Springfield said.

Drag performer Shadow Kat said drag queen story hours are a way for children to learn about creativity and acceptance — her own nine-year-old child enjoys story hours as well.

“These children deserve to know that they are always going to be loved, appreciated. No excuses, no question,” she said.

Apart from concerns this bill could threaten a learning opportunity for children and a safe space for queer youth, other protestors expressed fears for their safety.

Drag performer Public Universal Cuaima said they already do not feel safe in Oklahoma, and bills like House Bill 2186 might stoke violence against the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

“How the hell do they expect young queer kids to feel safe in this state when shootings are happening all around the country, attacking our communities?,” they said. “This is more ammunition for people like the people that attacked Club Q.”

Veronica DeHeaux, who has performed drag in Oklahoma City for more than two years, said the political climate is driving a wedge between himself and his home.

“I have an opportunity to leave Oklahoma, but I don’t want to because this is my home. And the fact that I might have to say goodbye to that, whether it be because of rules or because of the direction of my job — it crushes me,” he said. “It feels like the state I grew up in does not care about us, about me, about anyone.”

The bill now moves to the House floor.

Hannah France started her work in public radio at KBIA while studying journalism at the University of Missouri. While there, she helped develop and produce a weekly community call-in show, for which she and her colleagues won a Gracie Award. Hannah takes interest in a wide variety of news topics, which serves her well as a reporter and producer for KGOU.
Beth Wallis holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. Originally from Tulsa, she also graduated from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in conducting performance. She was a band director at a public school for five years.