North Dakota House advances bill banning drag shows in public, near children

The bill’s passage in the House marks the first win for socially conservative lawmakers who have promoted a series of bills aiming to restrict gender expression for LGBTQ residents.

North Dakota Rep. Brandon Prichard, R-Bismarck, urges House members on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, to vote for a bill that would restrict drag shows and cabaret performances.
Tom Stromme / The Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — A bill to restrict drag shows and cabaret performances in North Dakota is one step closer to becoming a law.

The North Dakota House of Representatives voted 79-13 on Thursday, Jan. 26, to advance House Bill 1333, which would prohibit “adult-oriented performances” in the presence of minors and on public property.

A person who violates the legislation would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 360 days in prison and a $3,000 fine. Repeat offenders would be guilty of a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The proposal will head to the Senate when the chambers swap passed legislation in March.

The bill’s passage marks the first win for socially conservative lawmakers who have promoted a series of bills aiming to restrict gender expression for LGBTQ residents. The Senate killed a proposal last week that would have barred transgender residents from using pronouns that align with their gender identity at schools and other publicly funded entities.


Bill sponsor Rep. Brandon Prichard, R-Bismarck, and other supporters say the legislation protects the innocence of children by shielding them from explicit performances.

LGBTQ advocates said at a hearing earlier this week that the bill suppresses North Dakotans' freedom of expression and discriminates against drag performers, who symbolize inclusivity in the LGBTQ community.

Prichard said Thursday he brought the bill after learning of drag shows performed in front of children, including at least one show on the steps of the Capitol. The 21-year-old legislator said he thinks the state’s existing obscenity laws should have prohibited the performances, but his bill would make explicit that the shows are not allowed.

Bill backer Rep. Lori VanWinkle, R-Minot, referred on Thursday to cabaret performers who take the stage in front of children as “perverts” and said the bill would safeguard kids where society has failed.

“We cannot let right and wrong be based on the subjective thoughts of our culture, (which) can apparently no longer differentiate what is moral behavior,” VanWinkle said. “Are we ready to next allow pedophilia in North Dakota so our newly sexualized-driven children can act out on what they’re learning from perverts who are demanding them from us?”

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said the bill only serves to marginalize “certain people who live in our state.” Boschee, who is openly gay, added that parents should be trusted to protect the best interest of their children.

“I would hope that we leave this up to parents,” Boschee said. “We already have laws that restrict where people can perform with nudity or without nudity, so this further expansion is nothing more than continuing to police morality.”

Thursday’s vote fell mostly along party lines with four Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the bill.


HB 1333 by Jeremy Turley on Scribd

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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