COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A bill similar to an unconstitutional Tennessee law prohibiting drag queens’ performances in public or where children are present has come to Ohio.

House Bill 245 was introduced at the Statehouse Monday to ban “adult cabaret performances,” defined as a show “harmful to juveniles” that features “entertainers who exhibit a gender identity that is different from the performers’ or entertainers’ gender assigned at birth.” The bill would prohibit these shows in all locations other than “adult cabarets,” meaning “a nightclub, bar, juice bar, restaurant, bottle club or similar establishment.”

Reps. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) and Angela King (R-Celina) are proposing the bill with the support of 41 out of 67 Ohio House Republican representatives. The 43 lawmakers outline the following penalties if entertainers are found violating the proposed law:

  • A misdemeanor of the first degree if a performance occurs in the presence of a juvenile under the age of 18.
  • A felony of the fifth degree if the performance is “obscene.”
  • A felony of the fourth degree if the performance is “obscene” and occurs in the presence of a juvenile under the age of 13.

Williams said the bill’s intention is to modernize Ohio’s revised code regarding obscenity viewed by minors, not to effectively ban drag in Ohio. The lawmaker stressed that the proposed measure only means to prohibit shows “harmful to juveniles,” with events like drag story time readings and plays like “Mrs. Doubtfire” covered under the First Amendment.

“We’re saying, look, we want equality for all, we want everyone to be treated equally in the state of Ohio, that includes our entertainers,” he said. “You’re going to be held to the same standard, which is don’t engage in obscene conduct in the presence of a minor.”

Recorded evidence of entertainers performing “across the lines of obscenity” in the presence of minors prompted this legislation, Williams said. He argues the proposed bill reevaluates that conduct, and pointed to the clothing allegedly worn by these performers.

“The type of dancing, the type of attire that we typically would see in an adult gentlemen’s club where only adults are permitted, we are starting to see those in locations where minors are present,” Williams said.

Williams did not clarify if the footage featured drag queens. When asked if he had links to any of these alleged videos, he said no.

Corey Williams, a drag queen in central Ohio for more than 23 years, said he has never seen an “obscene” drag performance and has never received a message from a patron who said they felt uncomfortable during the show.

 “As a drag performer, there is 100% nothing sexy that is about me, there are 14 layers of clothing on top of me to create the body, so they are trying to sexualize something that is not sexual,” the drag performer said.

Drag is “100% art,” Williams said, and is a way to express creativity that has existed for centuries. Williams is most concerned about the bill’s penalties, and emphasized that he and other drag performers understand how to dress appropriately.

“That’s insane, putting a penalty that harsh on someone’s art when there are people actually harming children and actually creating differences and hurt,” he said.

The bill’s language is modeled after a Tennessee law that also banned “adult cabaret performances” in all locations other than an “adult cabaret.” U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, ruled in June that the law was “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”

“Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” Parker’s ruling states.

HB 245 follows several pieces of legislation introduced at the Ohio Statehouse garnering backlash from members of the LGBTQ+ community. In June, the Ohio House passed a bill banning trans athletes from participating in girls’ sports and prohibiting trans youth from receiving certain medical care. A second bill altering how teachers can discuss the LGBTQ+ community in classrooms also passed. 

Ohio’s bills are among a trend of more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills moving through legislatures nationwide, breaking the record for the most bills introduced in a single year impacting the minority community. The proposals continue an unprecedented wave of legislation targeting LGBTQ+ people after 268 bills were introduced in 2021 and 315 in 2022. 

Next, HB 245 will be assigned to a House Committee where it will receive hearings open for public testimony. Read the bill as introduced below.