A bill that would toughen the punishment for spreading obscenity in front of a child advanced in the state Senate this week, a change that its sponsor has suggested could apply to some drag shows.
The comment from Wilson County Republican Sen. Buck Newton came as GOP legislators in many states have been considering restrictions on drag show performances, including where they can be held and whether children can be present.
Drag show performers and social conservatives spoke before the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday before the panel approved the measure. It could reach the Senate floor early next week.
Current law makes it the lowest grade of a felony to intentionally disseminate obscenity. Newton’s proposal would raise the felony by one level if the obscenity is “committed knowingly in the presence of an individual under 18 years of age.”
Earlier this week in another committee, Senate Democrats questioned Newton about whether his bill had to do anything with drag shows.
Newton responded that “obscene drag shows in front of children certainly might qualify” but acknowledged that other shows would be protected under the First Amendment.
The higher level of felony means an offender could receive active jail time on a first offense, whereas the penalty based on the current law would be probation, a fine or some other kind of community punishment.
“We have a problem in our society with obscenity and pornography and lewd behavior in front of others,” Newton said Thursday when asked about potential changes to the bill. “And I don’t think we should lose sight of that.”
Drag show performers and LGBTQ+ activists criticized the measure as an attempt to vilify transgender people by wrongly connecting them with criminal activity.
“As a person I think I have an inalienable right to live my life without having it being interpreted as the obscene,” said Alexandria Webb, who identified as a transgender woman of color and drag artist. “I would hate to see my protections limited by you all.”
Spokespersons for the North Carolina Family Policy Council and Christian Action League of North Carolina supported the bill in the committee hearing. Neither identified drag shows directly.
State law defines obscene materials in part as something that depicts or describes certain types of sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; lacks serious literary or artistic value and describes sexual matters that an average person would find “appeals to the prurient interest in sex.”
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.