Are Drag Queen’s Obscene? A New Proposed Ohio Law Adds Drag Queens to a List Along with Strippers and Topless Dancers

Ohio has become the most recent in a string of states to introduce a law banning drag queens from public performance. The newly proposed House Bill 245 expands the definition of adult cabaret performers from strippers and topless dancers to include “entertainers who exhibit a gender identity that is different from the performer’s or entertainer’s gender assigned at birth.”

Redefining Obscene

The bill, according to, would define adult cabaret performers as drag queens, topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers, among others. These performers would be guilty of unlawful adult cabaret performances if performed in any location other than an adult cabaret and in the presence of a juvenile under age 18. Violators would face a first-degree misdemeanor criminal charge. If the performance is considered obscene, they’d face a fifth-degree felony charge.

If the performance is seen by a child under age 13, the violation would be a fourth-degree felony.

Protecting Children or Discrimination?

Proponents of House Bill 245 say they believe the change is needed to shield children from obscene and improper to be done in the presence of minors. A Primary sponsor of the bill, Josh Williams (R-Oregon), said, “If you’re trying to expose our children to obscenity in the state of Ohio, expect to be placed in prison.”

Critics of the bill, which include democrats, civil rights, free speech, and LGBTQ+ advocates say that the bill is both intentionally vague and discriminatory.

Artistic Director of the Beck Center for the Performing Arts, Scott Spence, worries about this bill’s impact on theater. He fears he may need to shut down future productions.

“The theater has a great background in open-gender casting, cross-gender casting,” Spence said. “Are you telling us that in a legitimate theater, we’re not going to be allowed to present that?”

He told the Ohio Capital Journal that just the fear of prosecution would have a chilling effect, ‘Oh no, what could a prosecutor find offensive in this?’ And suddenly that leads to self-censorship,” Spence said. “I really do fear that the broad reach and tentacles of a bill like this are going to hurt everybody all the way down to these innocent kids who are just trying to express themselves in the arts.”

“A male dressing in a female costume to perform with a female in a play would not automatically classify as obscene and harmful to juveniles,” Williams said.

However, he does believe that he believes drag queen story hours are obscene, according to

“This is a woman in bad makeup reading to a kid. This is a performance that’s demonstrates a different gender in the presence of a child with the sole purpose of desensitizing the child to drag queens, he said.

The other primary sponsor of the bill, Angela King (R-Mercer), recently attended her community’s Pride festival to protest gay rights. Video published by the Buckeye Flame, an LGBTQ publication, shows King standing among a group of protesters as a separate group of neo-Nazis demonstrated against Pride a few car lengths away.

King didn’t return a message from The Plain Dealer and when asked for comment.

Safety and Free Speech Concerns

LGBTQ+ advocates have voiced their vehement opposition to this bill. Bradley Minerd, president of Equality Springfield, said the bill discriminates against transgender and gender nonconforming people, Minerd said, “perpetuating harmful stereotypes and further marginalizing vulnerable communities.”

Equality Ohio policy director Maria Bruno said in a statement,

“There have been multiple documented incidents of self-identified Nazis showing up to performances in Ohio in the past nine months. The Department of Homeland Security has sent out multiple alerts indicating the growing threat of hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people.” 

“Yet instead of addressing guns, targeted intimidation, or any of the escalations of violence that we are seeing in our communities, Ohio’s statehouse politicians instead have chosen to broadly criminalize performing arts.”


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