SALT LAKE CITY –
A Utah-based group that organizes drag shows is suing the city for denying a permit for an all-ages show it had planned to hold at a public park in April.
The group, Southern Utah Drag Stars, and its executive director, Micky Avaliox, accuse the city of St. George of “egregious and ongoing violations of their rights to free speech, due process and equal protection,” in a complaint filed in federal court on Tuesday. , are asking for damages and for St. George to reverse its decision and allow the drag show in late June.
“This is the latest crime in a larger pattern of gender-biased and discriminatory attacks on LGBTQ+ people and their rights in Utah and across the country,” said Emerson Sykes, an ACLU attorney representing the group.
The lawsuit is the latest development in the fight against drag shows in St. George, Utah, a conservative town 110 miles (179 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas. After HBO filmed a drag show in a public park last year for an episode of its We Are Here series, the city has become a flashpoint in a nationwide battle over drag shows as they have gained new political attention. in Republican. controlled cities and states.
Public events, such as drag queen story hours and all-ages events that Avaleaux intended to put together, are increasingly being targeted in legislatures across the country. This week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a ban banning minors from attending shows, and Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a ban banning people dressed in drag from reading books to children in public schools and libraries.
In Utah, a proposal by a St. George Republican to require warning notices for events such as scatter shows or pride parades in public spaces stalled after advancing through the state House of Representatives in March. The proposal stemmed from backlash over HBO’s June 2022 drag show in St. George. City officials granted the event a permit over the objection of some council members and community activists. City Manager Adam Lenhardt resigned months later over the incident after writing to council members that he could not legally deny permits for the show, according to an email obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune.
Anti-weight activists in Utah and across the United States portray the art form, which often involves dressing and acting excessively as the opposite gender for entertainment, as sexually deviant and a subversive attempt to influence children.
Avalox, who goes by the pronouns he and they, founded Southern Utah Drag Stars after the fall in hopes of bringing drag to the LGBTQ+ community in a rural area where such forms of entertainment are often lacking.
“I’ve made it my mission to continue doing these events, and not just for one month a year, but to make it so that people who were like me when I was younger… can see that there are queer adults who are able to live long and a full life,” Avalyoks said in the interview. “My biggest ambition was to provide a public space where people can go to the park and enjoy a show that’s designed for everyone.”
Avalleaux said the Drag Stars had intended to put on a show in April at the St. George City Park, and the city’s events coordinator told her they could start advertising before they got a permit. The city council later denied the group a permit, citing an ordinance that prohibits advertising until the permit is approved.
St. George declined to comment on the lawsuit, but its city attorney at the time defended enforcement of the ordinance, and the events coordinator declined to approve Avalox’s request to run the ad.
In their complaint, Avalleaux and ACLU lawyers portray St. George’s decision to deny their event a permit as part of a broader nationwide crackdown on drag performers and accuse the city of “egregious and ongoing violations of their free speech, due process and due process. equal protection rights”.
They argue that St. George cited an ordinance that has never been applied to the LGBTQ+ community in a selective and discriminatory manner.
“The city exercised its unfettered discretion under the ordinances to enforce them discriminatory,” they allege in the complaint.
The complaint also alleges that City Councilwoman Michelle Tanner is “exacerbating the conflict” and broadly fostering an anti-LGBTQ climate in St. George, including accusing those who perform drag in front of children of “predatory behavior.”