Drag community shows up to protest Nebraska drag show bill

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A bill that would criminalize exposing anyone 18 or younger to a drag show in Nebraska was the last one to get a public hearing in this year's legislative session late Friday. But those opposed to the bill made sure the final hearing went out with a flash of glitter and sequins.

Among scores of people who showed up to voice their opposition were more than a dozen dressed in drag, including heavy makeup, wigs and evening gowns.

The bill's main sponsor, conservative Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, said the legislation is intended to protect children “from being exposed to overly-sexualized and inappropriate behavior far too early.”

The bill defines drag as a performance by someone presenting a gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth. It would make exposing a minor to a drag show a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The bill comes amidst a national push by conservatives to restrict drag shows, transgender health care, bathroom access and how LGBTQ topics are discussed in schools.

“Those who allow this kind of perversion should be held accountable,” Murman said.

But Murman struggled to answer questions from Judiciary Committee members about how his bill would be enforced without violating the constitutional rights of drag performers, parents and others. Sen. Carol Blood, a Democrat from Bellevue asked how he would draw a line between drag and, say, musicians or actors who dress up in makeup and showy costumes for performances.

When Murman said the difference would come down to how scantily dressed the performer was, another Democrat, Sen. Wendy DeBoer, asked whether that would include a cheerleader in uniform twerking at a game. Murman said it would not.

“What you're doing is cherry-picking a demographic, and that's wrong,” Blood said.

The fact that the hearing didn’t begin until after 5 p.m. Friday did little to dissuade the public from turning out to speak on it. The crowd filled the Judiciary Committee hearing room and spilled out nearly 100 deep into the Capitol hallways.

Those supporting the bill expressed conspiracy theories of alleged efforts to indoctrinate children into queer society and used words like “groomers” and “woke culture” to describe drag shows.

But the vast majority of those attending opposed the bill, including two who identify themselves as Polly Pocket and Baby Girl, who often read picture books to children at an Omaha church's story hour. They defended such events and drag shows as simple fun and read from the children's book “Unicorns Are the Worst!” at a rally held before the hearing to protest the drag bill and another to ban gender-affirming care for minors.

“It's just queer people showing queer art,” Polly Pocket said.

The church where they perform, Urban Abbey, has been hosting drag story hours since 2018. But last Saturday, the show was interrupted by an emailed bomb threat that also threatened the church's pastor and several staff members.

“I have never in my life received an email that said, ‘Today you will die,’” Urban Abbey's pastor, the Rev. Debra McKnight, said. “They listed my home address and the addresses of several staff members.”

Sunday service the next day was also interrupted by an emailed bomb threat, she said, noting that Omaha police and the FBI are investigating.

The bill could later be advanced or die in committee.