Pending drag-restricting legislation could impact West Columbia businesses, performers

By Natalie Szrajer
Posted 3/22/23

Two bills pending in the S.C. House and Senate could restrict minors from attending drag shows.

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Pending drag-restricting legislation could impact West Columbia businesses, performers


Two bills pending in the S.C. House and Senate could restrict minors from attending drag shows, while also providing that any business that allows drag shows could be deemed a sexually oriented business.

Both House Bill 3616 and Senate Bill 585, named the Defense of Children’s Innocence Act, are currently in committee, and while the LGTBQ advocates who spoke with the Chronicle about the bills have no issue with minors not being allowed to view drag shows meant for those 18 and up, they feel this is an attack on their self-expression and their community as a whole.

“It’s very concerning, especially if the House bill passes as is — if any business allows drag shows, the business could be a sexually oriented business,” said drag king Han D. Mann, part of the local collective Columbia Kings ‘n Things, which performs regularly in the area, including at a handful of bars and restaurants in West Columbia. Mann declined to share his legal name.

“That is concerning because businesses that put on drag shows are not just drag bars.”

Mann pointed to businesses such as The Hideout at WeCo, which is a breakfast and brunch restaurant, as well as rock club New Brookland Tavern, which is a staple for music and comedy in West Columbia. 

Beyond these Lexington County businesses, Columbia Kings ‘n Things has done shows at the Nickelodeon Theatre on Columbia’s Main Street and have recently done competitions at Drip Coffee in the college neighborhood of Five Points.

“It’s concerning for them because being a sexually oriented business comes with statute and also a stigma and that’s not what these businesses are,” Mann said. “It puts them in a difficult decision.”

Under state law, sexually oriented businesses face significant restrictions as to how they’re allowed to operate, and many municipalities — including West Columbia — require them to apply for and be granted a separate permit.

Fellow Columbia Kings ‘n Things member Marty McGuy, who also elected not to share his legal name, emphasized the negative connotation that comes with being labeled a sexually oriented business.

“I don’t want anyone to associate drag as being a perverted thing,” he said. “When worded like [that of a] strip club, it takes us backwards. It’s sad to be treated like that.”

The pending South Carolina bills come on the heels of Tennessee, which became the first state in the country to explicitly ban drag shows in public spaces. The Tennessee bill is not the same as South Carolina’s as far as the wording goes, but it is similar.

WE’s on Meeting, which purports to have opened as the first pride bar in West Columbia about a year ago, has spoken out against the potential drag restrictions. The bar has worked with Columbia Kings ‘n Things in the past.

“It’s absolutely devastating that this is what the country is debating over,” said Sam Clark, a manager at the bar. “It’s the last thing our country needs.”

Clark said they aren’t worried about WE’s, as it’s a bar and has other things to fall back on, but that doesn’t allay more general concerns about the legislation.

“It’s ridiculous that drag is thought of as a sexually charged [act] when other places like Hooters allow kids in their restaurant,” Clark said. “It’s a misconception that drags are predatory.”

Mann echoed this sentiment.

“There are certain entertainments inappropriate for children, but those performances are restricted by age,” he said. “When there are family-friendly shows, those aren’t sexual in nature. These bills blur the line … saying drag is a sexual act because it could be harmful to children.”

The bills have sponsors that are a part of the far-right S.C. Freedom Caucus, though not all the sponsors are part of the group.

McGuy said he believes the writing of the bills have been done out of fear, encouraging representatives to listen to their constituents.

“My hope is that this will encourage people to have a change of heart or change of power,” he said. “Get people in office to represent us or have a society that understands people that are different than us. I want people in power that understand. It’s sad when people don’t take it seriously.”

“I don’t think politicians understand the door they’ve opened,” Mann said. “If they revise the language to be constitutional or scrap it, they’ve already convinced people we are predatory for doing drag. It’s a dangerous door they’ve opened.”

Republican State Rep. Micah Caskey, whose District 89 covers the part of West Columbia where the businesses mentioned in this story are located, said he doesn’t approve of “any child being at any sexually oriented business nor at any sexually oriented performance.”

But he also called the legislation “an unserious, attention-seeking stunt.”

Caskey zeroed in on the fact that all of the sponsors minus one for the House bill are members of the S.C. Freedom Caucus. 

“This is yet another clumsy attempt by the Freedom Caucus to exploit our fears about children being corrupted and to get attention for themselves,” he said.

McGuy emphasized his hope that state legislators will ultimately allow for nuance, pointing to the drag storytimes in which he’s participated in the Charlotte area as proof that drag can be kid-friendly.

“All-ages drag shows are up for debate here in my home state. I am trying to understand [the other] side,” he said. “I think they are misinformed about drag and it’s sad. Is all drag for children? No. All entertainment isn’t for children. If it’s a drag show that’s labeled as all-ages, it’s the responsibility of the show runners to make sure it’s suitable for all ages. 

“I truly hope that those who oppose drag will come around,” McGuy added. “Let’s keep showing them all the love our side has and demonstrating how great this art form is for kiddos.”

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