The city of St. George, Utah is being sued after it denied a permit to a group that organizes drag performances.
The Utah-based group Southern Utah Drag Stars claims the city violated its constitutional rights when it denied them permits for an all-ages show it aimed to host in a public park in April.
In a complaint filed in federal court on Tuesday, the group’s CEO Mitski Avalōx accused the city of “flagrant and ongoing violations of their free speech, due process, and equal protection rights.”
The Southern Utah Drag Stars are seeking damages and are requesting St. George reverse its decision to allow a drag show at the end of June.
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ACLU is representing the group in the lawsuit.
“This is the latest offense in a larger pattern of attacks discriminating against gender-diverse and LGBTQ+ people and their rights in Utah and throughout the country,” said Emerson Sykes, an ACLU attorney.
In the lawsuit, Avalōx argues St. George invoked a rare city ordinance to deny the permit.
The CEO said that Drag Stars wanted to host a show at a public park and began advertising before obtaining a permit, as they were allegedly told by a city events’ coordinator they were allowed to do so.
The city council ultimately denied the group’s permit as it claimed an ordinance forbids advertising before a permit is approved.
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“The City has employed its unfettered discretion under the ordinances to discriminatorily enforce them,” they said.
In the complaint, Avalōx and ACLU lawyers also contend St. George’s decision to deny the permit is part of a broader attack on drag performers.
St. George has grown in popularity after HBO filmed a drag show for an episode of “We’re Here” at a public park in June 2022. City officials issued permits for this event over the objection of some council members and
Avalōx founded Southern Utah Drag Stars amid fallout from the city over the decision.
The group’s CEO said they want to showcase drag in a rural place, where such entertainment is often lacking.
“I made it my mission to continue to do these events and not just one month out of the year, but to do so people that were like me when I was little … can see that there are queer adults that get to live a long and fulfilled life,” Avalōx told The Associated Press. “My biggest ambition was to provide a public space where people can go to a park and enjoy a show that’s meant for everyone.”
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Drag shows often involve performers dressing and acting exaggeratedly as another gender for entertainment. Critics say the content is sexually deviant and could influence children or expose them to sexualized or suggestive content.
As recently as this week, a pair of states have taken action to prevent drag entertainment.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that banned minors from attending drag shows and Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a ban on people dressed in drag from reading books to children at public schools and libraries.
St. George, Utah is located approximately 111 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.