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Michigan Republicans want penalties for school drag shows, can’t cite example

people standing in front of the capitol
Michigan state Rep. Beau LaFave speaks at the Michigan Capitol on Thursday. He was joined by Republican colleagues, from left, by Rep. Andrew Fink of Hillsdale, Rep. Greg Markkanen of Hancock, gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, Rep. Steve Carra of Three Rivers, Rep. Ryan Berman of Commerce Township and Rep. Luke Meerman of Coopersville. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

LANSING — Joined by Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, a group of House Republicans on Thursday announced a new bill that would empower parents to sue public schools that expose their children to drag shows.

The six legislators were unable to name an example of that happening in a Michigan public school, but they proposed allowing parents to sue districts for up to $10,000 if it ever does.

"I don't think that we need to have a problem occur in the state of Michigan before we address it," said state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, who nonetheless accused teachers of "pushing this ideology on small children."

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LaFave and other lawmakers are creating a new workgroup to develop additional bills to stop what he called the "oversexualization" of children.

The legislation comes two weeks after Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel accused Republicans of focusing on "fake issues" in an election year and suggested a "drag queen for every school," which she has described as an obvious joke.

"She said she was joking, but we take this as a trial balloon," said Dixon, a Norton Shores Republican who has proposed creating new criminal penalties for adults who expose kids to drag shows. 

"We're here to fight that culture war," said Dixon, who has made a fight against school "indoctrination" a key plank of her gubernatorial campaign.

The announcement outside the Michigan Capitol was interrupted by a heckler, who repeatedly yelled "f*** you" at lawmakers and told them to "take the guns away from people shooting students" instead. 

Also there was Sam Inglot, deputy director of the Progress Michigan liberal advocacy group, who protested the press conference with signs calling "bigotry a drag" and urging support for gay and transgender rights. 

Drag shows are "art, expression, affirmation" and Republicans are trying to "make it something that it's not," Inglot argued. "They're doing it by dehumanizing and villainizing the LGBT community. It's pathetic."

State Rep. Ryan Berman, a Commerce Township Republican who is lead sponsor on the new legislation, told reporters that a Jewish temple in his district, which also operates a private school, has advertised "drag queen storytimes."

Berman argued the events are "totally inappropriate" but acknowledged his bill would apply only to public schools, not private ones or religious organizations.

Temple Israel of West Bloomfield, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has promoted "vivacious" drag queen storytimes in coordination with a Jewish library, calling them "inclusive events" geared towards families with children 8 and under.

"Dress in what makes you feel fun and fantastic," said an online advertisement from January 2020.

Drag performers — typically men who dress in apparel usually worn by women -- who spoke with Bridge Michigan earlier this month said they were baffled that their shows have become the center of a political debate.

“I've never had a bad experience with these storytimes,” said Paul Bowling of Ypsilanti, a former teacher who is now a full-time drag performer.

“During storytime, it's usually all families that support what I do. It’s just like [when] I would read a book in the classroom [as a substitute teacher]. I just look a little more fabulous.”

The new legislation does not define a “drag show” or “drag event” but would allow parents to sue a public school if they either host or “expose” a student to one. 

Rep. Andrew Fink, R-Hillsdale, on Thursday called the new legislation a "straightforward approach" to make sure that drag shows aren’t allowed in Michigan schools — even if they never have been before.

"We're not trying to sensationalize this thing," he told reporters.

Other sponsors include Republican state Reps. Steve Carra of Three Rivers, Luke Meerman of Coopersville and Greg Markkanen of Hancock.

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