Idaho House passes bill restricting minors from attending drag shows with ‘sexual conduct’

If Idaho’s bill passes, live drag shows meeting definition in the bill would be banned from public parks and venues

By: - March 7, 2023 5:35 pm
Idaho Capitol

Idaho State Capitol building in Boise on Jan. 11, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho House of Representatives voted to pass a bill restricting the performance of public live drag shows that contain “sexual conduct” as opponents worried that passing the bill jeopardizes all live performance art across the state. 

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and the Idaho Family Policy Center, a conservative Christian organization, are pushing House Bill 265. Representatives from the Idaho Family Policy Center said they wrote the bill in response to drag shows held at Pride festivals in Coeur d’Alene and Boise last year. Organizers of Boise Pride originally planned a kids drag show in 2022 but canceled it out of safety concerns after Idaho Republican Party officials called on businesses to boycott Boise Pride.

If passed into law, House Bill 265 does a couple of things: 

  • It requires organizers and promoters of live shows that feature “sexual conduct” must take reasonable steps to restrict minors from attending the shows, such as checking IDs. Children who are exposed to such shows or their parents would have four years to sue for $10,000 for each violation of the bill.
  • The bill also prevents such live shows from taking place at public facilities or city, county or state-owned parks, venues or performing arts centers. Instead, such shows would have to take place on private property, even if minors are restricted from attending. Staging such shows in public facilities would be criminalized as a misuse of public funds. 

One of the bill’s definitions of sexual conduct has opponents concerned that the bill targets drag shows in particular. One of the bill’s definitions of sexual conduct is “sexually provocative dances or gestures performed with accessories that exaggerates male or female primary or secondary sexual characteristics.”

During a public hearing on the bill Thursday at the Idaho State Capitol, several drag performers spoke out in opposition to the bill, saying the bill mischaracterizes drag and their art.

Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti and Crane told legislators the bill would not apply to cheerleading performances, Shakespeare, ballet, dance teams or pop concerts. But Democrats who spoke out against the bill in floor debate Tuesday said they had numerous concerns about it. 

“I think we’ve got a real First Amendment problem here,” House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said. 

“This language on its face could cover cheerleading routines, it could cover performances of musicals like ‘Grease’ or ‘Rent’ or any number of mainstream shows that we go see,” Rubel added. “Les Mis. It could cover Lady Gaga and Madonna concerts. It could cover high school dance troupes, jazz routines, hip hop routines… We are basically creating something that could prohibit the entire world, almost, of performing arts.”

Rep. Dan Garner, R-Clifton, was one of 11 Republicans who voted against the bill. As a former school board member, Garner said he heard several complaints about cheer and dance routines and worried this bill “could spill over into that.”

“It’s painting everything with such a broad brush,” Garner said about his concerns over the bill

Several other Republicans who debated in favor of the bill said it was much simpler than that. 

“Really, this is simply a protect the children from perverts bill,” Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, said in his floor debate.

Others agreed.

“What we are trying to do here is protect children from lascivious – without going too far into it – conduct,” Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said in his floor debate.

There are already existing state and federal laws prohibiting obscenity and indecent exposure.

In the end, the Idaho House voted 48-21 to pass House Bill 265.

Eleven Republicans voted with all 10 of the Democrats who were present in opposing the bill. Republicans who voted no include Garner and Rep. Matthew Bundy, R-Mountain Home; Richard Cheatum, R-Pocatello; Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls; Greg Lanting, R-Twin Falls; Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello; Lori McCann, R-Lewiston; Stephanie Jo Mickelsen, R-Idaho Falls; Jack Nelsen, R-Jerome; James Petzke, R-Meridian; and Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell. 

The bill next heads to the Idaho Senate for consideration. 

Idaho Democrats blast Republicans for lack of action on property taxes, school funding

During an afternoon press conference at the Idaho State Capitol on Tuesday, Democratic legislative leaders said their Republican colleagues have wasted most of the session by pushing bills on culture wars and social issues rather than addressing issues like housing affordability, property taxes, parks and infrastructure investments or implementing the Sept. 1 special session laws to increase education funding. 

Need to get in touch?

Have a news tip?

Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said the Idaho Legislature only has about two-and-a-half weeks until the Republican leadership’s nonbinding target to adjourn the session for the year on March 24. Wintrow and Rubel also pointed out that Monday was the nonbinding target date to transmit bills between the two legislative chambers. After Monday’s transmittal deadline came and went, Wintrow pointed out the Idaho Legislature has not set the fiscal year 2024 budget or passed property tax reduction that Idaho voters said in public policy surveys should be a top priority.

“We have all of these important issues, and they are always left until the very end,” Wintrow said at the press conference.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.