On Tuesday, the Arkansas Senate approved Senate Bill 43, which will greatly restrict drag performances, in a 29-6 vote. Although the bill has not yet reached Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders' (R) desk, on Wednesday she said in a news conference "I think we have to do everything — I've been very clear and talked about this pretty extensively — to protect children. I think that's what this bill does."
The bill was introduced Jan. 19 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R) and republicans have publicly voiced it is intended to "protect" children from drag shows. It is currently in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
SB43 states a "drag performance" is when one or more performers:
Exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer's gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup or other accessories that are traditionally worn by members of and are meant to exaggerate the gender identity of the performer's opposite sex; and
Sings, lip-syncs, dances or otherwise performs before an audience of at least two people for entertainment, whether performed for payment or not; and
Is intended to appeal to the prurient (lustful) interest of a minor (less than 18 years old).
As SB43 nears passing, drag performances will be practically eliminated in Arkansas.
A local Drag Queen, who goes by the stage name Karma Kouture, spoke with The Post about their take on SB43.
"I feel like my human rights are kind of being taken away," Kouture said. "Clothes to me have never had a gender, period.
"Drag to me is a way to just express myself. ... I almost feel like the Statue of Liberty. We're standing in front of these people, full gown, smile — they're smiling — it's all about fun. ... Drag is about love. We are like the cheerleaders of the gay world. We're like pretty clowns. We're all dolled up and we're here to make sure everybody is having a good time and it's entertainment."
Kouture, who has been performing drag for 15 years, said it's always a show that is "clearly advertised."
"It's not a secret," they said. "It's not like, come to this concert — surprise it's a bunch of men in dresses! Ha-ha-ha-ha.
"Do you know what the best way is to protest a drag show? Don't come."
As for when it comes to performing in front of children, Kouture says it's a vastly different show than at a nightclub or bar. While at a show somewhere like the local venue Maxine's Live, they may perform to a song by singer-songwriter Kesha, who is known for her mature content. Whereas if they were at a family event they would perform to something like The Lion King.
"People that bring their kids to these shows want to show their kids that they don't have to be scared of us," Kouture said. "And sometimes that's very impactful, whether it's older kids who are trying to figure out who they are, or here just to see a beautiful clown dancing on stage and making them smile.
"But what are we teaching our kids when we tell them what I do is wrong and dirty?"
Unsure of how far these restrictions will go if passed, the local LGBTQ+ community is concerned it could prohibit "cross-dressing" of any kind, especially among the transgender community.
Local Wednesday Night Poetry Host Kai Coggin begged the question at this week's open mic: Can someone dressed as the "opposite gender" legally recite a poem there once this bill is passed?
And Kouture asks: Can they or other people in the LGBTQ+ community legally dress as the "opposite gender" when doing things like walking in the local Pride Month parade?
The question is: What may be considered a "performance?" And could it be up to the discretion of the individual Arkansas communities?
Kouture, who grew up in a rural Arkansas town, said they moved to Hot Springs because it was an oasis for them in the south. And while they don't foresee Hot Springs Law Enforcement Officers taking firm action in one of these instances, they could see it happening in a town like where they grew up.
"I've been doing this for so long, and I will get arrested," Kouture said. "I will not stop doing what I do. ... I will find a home for us. This is art. This is a way for us to express ourselves."