Drag queens grateful after Ohio Supreme Court removes performance ban from ballot

By: - October 11, 2023 4:45 am
Veranda L'Ni performing in the Cleveland Drag Showcase. (Photo by Porch Porch Productions.)

Veranda L’Ni performing in the Cleveland Drag Showcase. (Photo by Porch Porch Productions.)

Ohio drag queens are thanking the Ohio Supreme Court for removing a proposal from city of Bellefontaine ballots that would ban public performances.

Drag is more than just performance art for Cleveland drag queen Veranda L’Ni — it’s also community.

“It’s the most creative art form in the world — we get to change our bodies and everything about us,” L’Ni said.

Both L’Ni and queen Dusty Bucket, who both use the pronoun they, are celebrating a new Ohio Supreme Court decision that blocks a ballot proposal to ban public drag shows in Bellefontaine, a central Ohio city with about 14,000 people.

“It’s great that the Ohio Supreme Court has taken a step to remove this,” L’Ni said.

It’s a huge relief, Bucket said.

“At least like something has been done, and we are stronger than we’ve ever been,” they said.

Although this is a win for them, it wasn’t explicitly about LGBTQ+ rights, Case Western Reserve University nonpartisan law professor Atiba Ellis explained.

The Ohio Supreme Court didn’t say that drag is fine, but rather that Sec. of State Frank LaRose and the Logan County election officials “abused their discretion and disregarded the law.”

“This court has made clear that there can’t be a change in the middle of the process because the law is intended to protect the voters from bait and switch tactics,” Ellis said.

Bellefontaine residents put forward a petition to ban drag in public or in any “location viewable by a minor” after they saw a fully-clothed performer on a float during a parade, according to The Buckeye Flame, a nonprofit LGBTQ+-centered newsroom.

After signatures had been gathered, additional language was added to the proposal. LaRose approved of this, and state Rep. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) is siding with him.

“I believe individuals that signed onto that petition knew what they were signing on to — the rest of the language was the same,” Williams said.

What this ruling did was set the precedent for LaRose to be careful with the petition process.

“He should take positions that ensure transparency for the people of Ohio rather than expediency for a particular political agenda,” Ellis said.

This is not the first time LaRose has been under fire for “overstepping” during the petition process, the professor added.

He previously faced criticism for rewriting the abortion rights amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot, with Democrats saying he misconstrued it. LaRose is one of the leading voices against the proposal to protect and enshrine the right to abortion, contraception and fertility treatment into the state constitution.

In that case, the court sided with LaRose.

However, this may show voters that LaRose is willing to step away from being the nonpartisan elections chief, his job, and fight for his own views.

“It seems to me to be using the political process in order to put forward a specific political agenda,” Ellis said.

In defense of LaRose, since he and his team did not respond to comment, Ellis said that nothing in LaRose’s approval of the ballot proposal dealt with his personal beliefs.

“The arguments he offered were credible, yet the court rejected them as strained,” he said.

This ruling shows Williams that his legislation, which would ban “obscene” drag shows anywhere but “adult cabarets,” nightclubs or sex shops, has support, the lawmaker said.

RELATED: Proposed Ohio bill banning drag shows may have wide-ranging impact on theater performances

“It demonstrates to me that people are interested in protecting children,” Williams said.

L’Ni called these types of attacks meritless, saying nothing vulgar ever happens in front of children.

Despite the increase in laws against drag, protestors firebombing event locations and white supremacists showing up to drag brunches, L’Ni will continue fighting for free speech and art.

“This is definitely an uphill battle — and I’m all for it,” they said. “Until the next shiny object that’s no longer a drag performer gets in their purview, that’s where we’re gonna have to end up.”

This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.



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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.