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Louisville drag queen to GOP sponsors of bill to restrict drag shows: Let’s have dinner

In World
February 02, 2024

A prominent drag queen in Louisville whose livelihood would be impacted by a pair of Republican-backed bills to restrict drag performances across Kentucky has a question for the bill sponsors: “Could we get dinner?”

Andrew Newton Schaftlein, whose drag name is May O’Nays, posted a video to Instagram on Wednesday asking bill sponsors Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, and Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, if they’d be interested in getting together to talk about the ramifications of their mirror bills, House Bill 402 and Senate Bill 147.

“You all have brought forward some bills this legislative session that will directly affect my life, my family’s life, and the lives of many people, friends and coworkers that I care deeply about,” Andrew said.

“But I have a question: Have you ever had a meaningful relationship with a drag performer? I think we have more in common than you think. Rep. Tate and Sen. Tichenor, I implore you, please get to know us before you legislate us.”

After also sending both lawmakers an email with similar requests Thursday morning, Andrew has not yet heard back. Neither Tate nor Tichenor responded to requests for comment from the Herald-Leader.

Filed Tuesday, the bills, if passed, would establish a statewide rule restricting where “adult-oriented performances” can take place with the stated goal of keeping them away from kids and teenagers.

The measures were filed with the intention of “preserving the innocence of children,” Tate said.

And the policies would apply to “sexually explicit drag performances,” though what is considered sexually explicit — and whether there’s a delineation between drag shows that aren’t sexually explicit — is not clearly defined in the bill language.

What’s more, because the proposals would give cities and towns the language to regulate these performances, what some local leaders consider sexually explicit is likely to vary.

This distinction is important because not all drag is adult-oriented, Andrew said in a Thursday interview with the Herald-Leader. As the father of two young kids who he’s raising with his husband, much of May O’Nays’ performances, whose persona is a “Martha Stewart-type,” are family friendly on purpose, Andrew said.

“Drag is hugely diverse, but I find my drag is contemporary clownery. The same sort of image people have of what clowns used to do back in the day,” he said.

“We are folks who show up to public and private spaces and we entertain. We bring mirth. We spread joy. But the component that makes people really nervous and uncomfortable is playing with poking fun at gender.”

It’s reasonable that not everyone understands drag, he said. But the insinuation undergirding the pair of bills filed this week that people who perform in drag or enjoy watching those performances are “somehow lacking moral clarity,” is bothersome.

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Because May O’Nays participates in drag story times, she spends time with a lot of teens and kids. For any adolescent who has ever felt uncomfortable in their body, when they enter a room with a weird, loud and fabulous drag queen, Andrew said, it “creates a shield for them to feel more comfortable about who they are. However people show up feeling, they’re not as weird and noticeable as we are.”

Though Tate and Tichenor said their intention is not to prevent adults from going to drag shows, or to trample on First Amendment right, the proposed policy would make it harder to host such performances.

They propose setting a boundary of 933 feet — the average distance of a city block — between where these performances take place and any “educational occupancy” building where children might gather, such as churches, libraries, schools, child care and recreation facilities, seminaries and universities.

Drag story hours at libraries would be outlawed under the bill. Private businesses that host or screen these performances and are within 933 feet of one of these locations would have five years to comply with the new rule, should it become a law.

Failing to comply would include loss of business or liquor license and other civil penalties.

“Children should be given the opportunity to develop without thinking about sex and sexual preferences,” Tate said Tuesday. “It is our responsibility as adults to protect the innocence of their minds and bodies.”

The bills seek to prevent what its authors call “deleterious secondary effects” that are “associated” with adult-oriented performances.

Though it does not cite specifics for how a drag show contributes to these outcomes, the bill nonetheless outlines the following secondary effects as being “associated” with adult-oriented performances: crime and human trafficking, “potential spread of disease, lewdness, public indecency, vulgarity, weakening of public morality, obscenity, illicit drug use and drug trafficking,” as well as “negative impacts on surrounding properties and their value, urban blight, litter, and sexual assault and exploitation.”

May O’Nays’ next one-woman show, premiering this summer, is an homage to the life and work of Mr. Rogers — a figure who advocated for perennial kindness and inclusion — called, “Won’t You Be My May-Bor.”

The show premiered at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in early December.

Channeling Mr. Rogers, Andrew wrote in his email to Tichenor and Tate, “You and I are both parents, spouses, and people of faith. We have so much in common, I think we might just not be communicating well with each other on this issue.

“Neighbors talk about what’s important to them and share about their lives. And I believe that’s how we make a better Kentucky.”

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