Residents express views on Albemarle ‘drag show’ ordinance

Published 9:26 am Friday, September 8, 2023

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An overflow crowd packed the Council Chambers at Albemarle City Hall on Thursday night as the Albemarle Planning and Zoning Board considered a proposed text amendment to City Ordinances 68.01 (Definition of Adult Cabaret), which would define “drag shows.”

After Planning Board Chair Cavin Holbrook related rules and time limits for public comment, Senior Planner Travis Swain summarized the proposed text amendment.

“Text Amendment 23-02, requested by Brian Johnson, would add to the definitions of sexually oriented businesses (SOB) under “adult cabaret” to include the addition of “drag shows.”

The proposed definition would define a drag show as “live performances where individuals, regardless of biological sex, perform in exaggerated clothing and makeup to impersonate and often satirize gender stereotypes and cultural norms. Drag shows involve lip-syncing, singing, dancing, comedy and other forms of recognized artistic expression. Drag shows may incorporate sexual innuendos, or suggestive humor, they do not necessarily involve the exposure of specified anatomical areas or specified sexual activities.”

Swain went on to suggest a second option, which would provide consistency throughout the city’s code of ordinances by addressing the matter in Chapter 92, which covers zoning regulations.

“What we don’t want is for someone to say ‘it’s okay under this section of the ordinance, but not in this section,’  ”he said.

City attorney Britt Burch spoke to additional considerations on adopting the text amendment.

“A first consideration is adult entertainment as it pertains to minors,” said Burch, adding that “material harmful to minors” is illegal under North Carolina state law as well as local ordinances, and that two similar bills are under consideration in the NC General Assembly.

“The first would put age and location restrictions on various levels of adult entertainment. The second would tighten punishment for obscene materials,” she said.

Burch closed in addressing national trends on the adoption of such ordinances.

“Many bans on these types of activities have been struck down on appeal at the federal level as unconstitutional,” she said, but noted that most of these had been proposed at the state level instead of locally.

Planning staff analysis was provided by Planning and Development Services Director Kevin Robinson, who stated that staff’s concerns were focused primarily on interpretation and legality.

“This places our staff and the police department in the position of subjectively determining what does and does not meet the criteria,” said Robinson, who used examples of “various theatrical plays and performances, costume shows, Halloween and even powder puff football games” as potential violations.

Jason Phibbs spoke in favor of the text amendment, and expressed concerns that such performances are detrimental to the development of youngsters.

“Exposing children to drag shows is abuse,” stated Phibbs.
Phibbs countered Burch’s points by noting that the proposed text amendment would “target the businesses hosting drag events rather than the performers,” noting that similar laws struck down by appeals courts were ruled unconstitutional because they targeted the performers’ right to free speech.

Brian Wright, pastor of Boomerang Church, echoed Phibbs’ sentiments, stating that the proposal as written “would not take away a first amendment right” for the performers.

“Children should not have to be exposed to immorality,” he added.

Adam Hatley, pastor of West Albemarle Baptist Church, described the proliferation of drag shows as “a demonic effort to indoctrinate young people,” and read a resolution signed by 19 pastors supporting the proposed text amendment.

As the pastor at Dunn’s Grove Baptist Church, Jeremy Holt asked the board to consider the authority of the Bible in ruling on the amendment.

“Nothing is more important than scripture,” said Holt, quoting Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman is not to wear male clothing, and a man is not to put on a woman’s garment, for everyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord your God.”

Clint Lewey, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Stanfield, opened with a short prayer, asking for wisdom and grace for those in positions of decision-making.

“I’m first and foremost a Christian,” he said, “and we don’t stand here tonight to cast stones, but to speak the truth in love,” emphasizing that “our gender is not something we choose.”

“We recognize God as our creator and as our authority … it’s printed on our money, it’s recognized at every invocation of a city council meeting … so we must recognize that He created us as male and female.”

Lewey continued to describe the proposed amendment as akin to seat belt and child-restraint seat laws, as well as laws prohibiting entry of youngsters into certain establishments.

“We recognize the need to protect our children,” he said. “These laws are in place to protect them.

“Those who confuse children of their God-given identity are predators,” he added. “

“The transgender community does not need our children to be transgender themselves … they only need our children to think this is normal behavior.”

Jessica McCorkle spoke against the proposed text amendment, citing statistics of a higher number of high school students identifying as LGBTQ considering self-harm.

“There has been a lot of conversation as to how this affects our young people,” she said.

“Why does this matter?” McCorkle asked. “It matters because we are teaching youngsters that they don’t have a seat at the table … we’re comparing them to topless dancers and strippers … we’re not giving them a safe place in our schools or our communities.

“There are scores of people out there who are more than willing to tell these young people how unwelcome they are,” McCorkle added.

“This change is not necessary. It has created a tremendous divide in our community, as you can see right outside our doors here.”

Angela Beane followed McCorkle, and expressed similar sentiments.

“There are more youngsters victimized by straight white men, church leaders, coaches or a creepy uncle than are victimized by drag performers,” said Beane, who also noted “more children have been harmed in school shootings than by drag queens.”

“Not everyone you represent is a Christian, and not everyone you represent believes in God,” added Beane. “We have the right to freedom of religion, so dictating ordinances based on a certain group’s perception of how the law would be written by their God is wrong.”

The final speaker of the hearing was Tiffany Dahle, who addressed concerns with censorship of the arts that would be created by adoption of the text amendment.

“Impersonations are a fundamental of acting,” she said, adding that a performer portraying someone of the opposite sex is “just playing a role.”

Upon closure of the public hearing, discussion among planning board members was brief. Board member Julie Curtis expressed concerns with how a definition of drag shows would be interpreted, using the Tour de Elvis 5K and Bicycle Tour as an example.

“Some participants dress up as Elvis,” she said. “If a woman were to dress as Elvis to run the 5K, would that classify the event as a ‘drag show?’ ” she asked.

The board voted 9-0 to recommend denial of adoption of the text amendment.

City Council is expected to make a final ruling on the amendment at its Oct. 16 meeting.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.