Law & Principles , Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | February 23, 2023

Oklahoma senators target lewd acts in public

Ray Carter

Partly in response to a drag-queen show in Bartlesville where children were reportedly exposed to lewd acts, members of a Senate committee have voted to strengthen Oklahoma law to deter similar incidents.

“If the event that you’re looking at is going to have lewd acts in it, it needs to be in a place that you can make sure that a minor cannot see it,” said state Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant.

Senate Bill 503, by Bullard, would make it illegal for a political subdivision to permit “a public display of lewd acts or obscene material in a public place” at any activity “where a minor could witness such lewd acts or obscene material.”

The bill defines “lewd acts” to mean “any sexual behavior imitating sex or sexual acts, groping, indecent exposure of genitalia or sexual paraphernalia, display of replicas of genitalia, sexually touching oneself or someone else, or convincing or forcing someone else to sexually touch or observe sexual behavior.”

Under the legislation, any individual intentionally displaying lewd acts or obscene material in front of a minor could be charged with a felony and subject to lawsuit by victims.

“We have had some events that have happened in the past where we had lewd acts and children observing it,” Bullard said, specifically noting a reported incident in Bartlesville where video showed a drag-queen show that included children in the audience.

State Sen. Jessica Garvin, a Durant Republican who chairs the Senate General Government Committee, said she had “really struggled with whether or not this is something we should be addressing in this particular way,” but concluded the issue deserved debate.

“As a parent of young kids, I think we really need to have this conversation,” Garvin said.

State Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, opposed the bill, saying the language lacked precision and might conflict with other parts of Oklahoma law.

Freedom Oklahoma, a group that advocates for “all Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and fuller spectrum of people whose sexuality or gender or romantic identity exists beyond a heteronormative, binary framework (2SLGBTQ+),” criticized the bill online.

“While this bill doesn’t explicitly mention drag, we know the law is not neutral nor is it enforced neutrally,” Freedom Oklahoma tweeted. “When bills like this are authored with the intent to chill speech and expression, targeting drag performers and pride parades especially, we’re going to pay attention.”

The group also complained that under the bill “if you had maybe pre-wedding party gear with phallic decorations in a public place where a minor could see, you could be found in violation of this law.”

Earlier this week, Freedom Oklahoma criticized a bill that sought to increase the penalties for hiring prostitutes as an anti-transgender measure.

SB 503 passed the Senate General Government Committee on an 8-2 vote that split along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition.

[Photo credit of drag performance in Bartlesville, Oklahoma: Libs of TikTok]

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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