Activities branded as “inclusive” and “kid-friendly” that feature provocatively clad cross-dressers and sexualized performances aren’t just a creature of left-wing enclaves. Drag queen story hours and other events that target children with the sexual agendas of their organizers have made their way into small-town America.
Ocala, Florida, a city that’s home to about 60,000 people in a county that voted 62 percent for Trump in 2020, hosted a “Pride Fest” on Saturday with advertised “burlesque” performances from at least half a dozen drag queens. A Facebook post specifically describing the performances as “kid friendly” was apparently edited after a commenter questioned how a burlesque show could possibly be appropriate for kids, but another post insisted that “all [Pride] events are family friendly unless otherwise stated.”
Facebook photos from the annual event in 2019 show children watching a drag performer on stage and dancing with a drag queen. One of the directors of Ocala Pride Inc., the group putting on the event, wrote in her bio that “I’m 23. I am a K5 teacher. I Love to work with children.” A few of the featured drag performers’ Instagram pages feature photos and videos of themselves performing lap dances on patrons, groping another person’s sexual organs and being groped in return, collecting money from children while performing, and posing with exposed breasts to advertise condoms.
“That’s no place a child should go, no parent should take their child to that,” Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn told The Federalist, discussing Saturday’s event. “Obviously I don’t support those events being with children around them.”
But even conservative city leadership has limited authority to deny event permits on city property based on the tawdry nature of the event. Ocala Councilman Jay Musleh explained to The Federalist that “whether the activities are suitable for children is not a consideration unless a city ordinance or regulation might be violated,” since the application for holding an event on city property “does not ask for opinions about the nature of activities and performances.” As Guinn noted, “people have a right to free speech and also have a right to assemble.”
The First Amendment protects “Pride” gatherings and rallies, just as it does assemblies of pro-traditional-marriage Christians. But there’s a fine line between free speech and subjecting children to lewd and indecent performances and behavior. So how can small-town leaders decisively put drag show organizers on notice that, while the former is welcomed, they have no tolerance for the latter?
1. Instruct Police to Enforce Public Indecency Laws
There are laws indicating where “free speech” ends and obscene behavior begins. In Florida, for example, state statutes designate, “Any person who knowingly promotes, conducts, performs, or participates in an obscene show, exhibition, or performance by live persons or a live person before an audience” as guilty of a misdemeanor.
“Without any hesitation, if anybody does anything that’s illegal as far as indecent exposure to violate the law, they’ll be put in handcuffs to go to jail,” Guinn told The Federalist in the days leading up to Saturday’s event in Ocala. “I’ve already talked to my chief about that.” Local leadership can limit public instances of indecent performances, nudity, and the like by clearly articulating ahead of time that illegal obscene acts will not be tolerated.
Governments can also use appropriate regulatory power to restrict minors’ access to obscene performances in business establishments. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation under Gov. Ron DeSantis has used its authority to file complaints — which could cost establishments their liquor licenses — against places such as the R House Bar in Miami, which drew ire after videos surfaced of a topless drag queen interacting with a toddler.
2. Use Social Media to Notify Parents of Undesirable Public Events
Many parents, especially in more conservative locales, don’t want to take their families downtown for lunch only to stumble upon a drag performance in the town square. Local leaders should use social media — their personal accounts if not city channels — to inform their constituents both that the First Amendment protects speech and assembly even if city leadership does not endorse it, and also that parents should exercise their discretion and authority in choosing whether to take their children to events many might find inappropriate.
3. Refuse to Actively Sponsor Events
Local leadership can respect the First Amendment use of public spaces by people with a variety of views without explicitly endorsing or furthering activities that impose a sexual agenda on children. Library leaders shouldn’t go out of their way to solicit and facilitate “drag queen story hours” for children, as they did in “Republican-leaning Saint Louis suburbs” this past summer, revealed by reporting from The Federalist’s Joy Pullmann. Even if public-use facilities such as libraries can’t deny the use of private meeting rooms to qualifying groups, they can avoid endorsing such events or using library channels to promote them.
Similarly, local school boards should refuse to use taxpayer-funded, government-affiliated public schools as platforms for drag shows and story hours.
If adults want to act out their sexual confusion in front of minors, no government entity should be sponsoring it. Private businesses and corporations might choose to welcome such performances into their establishments; in Ocala, that’s exactly what Starbucks has done. But such businesses may risk angering potential customers in the process, as well as risk opening themselves up to regulatory complaints if performances violate the law.
4. Welcome Constituents to Make Their Voices Heard
One of the most basic things local leaders can do is remind all their constituents, including those who oppose exposing children to sexualized performances, to use their freedoms of speech and assembly. Just as “Pride Fest” organizers are free to exercise their rights on the downtown square, so others are free to peacefully protest the event, stand on the sidewalk giving passers-by with children a “heads up,” or organize their own gatherings.
The public square is just that — public — but that doesn’t mean it has to be ceded to gross uses only. Nor does that mean local leaders can’t both honor the First Amendment while also refusing to permit or even endorse lewdness that exposes children to inappropriate sexual behavior.