Kentucky drag queens may have to perform out of state due to SB 115


LEXINGTON, Ky. — Proposed legislation in the Kentucky Senate seeks to ban adult oriented businesses from operating within 1000-feet of places that may see a high volume of underage visitors.

What You Need To Know

  • Senate Bill 115 would prohibit drag perfomances from taking place within 1,000 feet of places children frequent

  • Per the bill, adult entertainment and venues shall not operate within 1,000 feet of YMCAs, schools, churches and more

  • Some drag queens use the art as a way of self-healing and expressing their gender

  • The bill has been assigned to Kentucky Senate Military, Veteran’s Affairs and Public Protection Committee

If Senate Bill 115 passes, drag shows and any business that sponsors or puts them on would violate state law.

The Bar Complex in downtown Lexington has been one of the city’s main LGBTQ friendly bars for over 30 years and, like some gay bars, it sponsors drag shows almost every weekend. The Bar employs a cast of drag queens, but if SB 115 is passed many local performers would have to find other venues to perform.

Corabelle Bundy Jolie is no stranger to the performing arts or a stage.

“I started in community theater and I was a thespian. I loved being on stage and making people laugh,” Jolie said.

Jolie has been doing drag in the Commonwealth for nine years. It started as a fun side-gig in addition to her day job, but has since become an outlet for self healing and expression.

“I use drag as a way to mitigate some of the stress,” Jolie said.

On Thursday through Saturday nights, she can usually be found performing at Lexington’s The Bar Complex. It’s a three-day, weekly regimen of makeup, wigs and nails to fully transform into Corabelle.

“It usually takes an hour or hour and a half to get all dolled up,” Jolie said.

But recently, due to new legislation that is being debated, she fears every stroke of the makeup brush could be her last at The Bar.

“It’s very sad, because it feels like we are moving backwards,” Jolie said.

SB 115 would ban places that sponsor drag shows from putting them on if their place of business is within 1,000 feet of any place children would be present. It categorizes drag shows as adult-entertainment alongside strip clubs, adult stores and 18+ movie theaters.

“This outlet that we use as drag is not just as an entertainment for sexual desires and sexual fantasies, there is a component of that,” Jolie said. “But this is more of a way to express ourselves in a confined environment and enjoy and be free.”

The bill lists many places “adult entertainment” venues shall not operate within 1000 feet, including libraries, YMCAs, churches, schools and permanent residences. The Bar is very close to churches, a YMCA and many downtown apartments.

Braya Grey, Jolie’s drag sister, says it would limit most of her opportunities to perform in the state.

“If it were to pass in Kentucky, it would leave me going state-to-state,” Grey said.

Grey said while it’s unfortunate, it’s not surprising as other states take similar moves.

“Kentucky is the problem at home. That’s where we are, that’s what impacts us the most but this is happening all over the country and it’s really scary to think that so many states are introducing legislation that are so divisive when it comes to drag queens,” Grey said.

But Republican senators sponsoring SB 115 see it differently.

“The focus really is if it’s not going to be suitable for kids then it needs to be covered up in someway or the other,” said State Sen. Adrienne Southworth (R-Lawrenceburg).

Southworth said the bill’s goal is keeping drag and other adult performances in a confined space and not in a public setting.

“I’ve received several emails, and it’s been interesting some of the stuff you don’t know about. I mean I’m aware of some things but have heard more where adult entertainment leaks outside doors and it’s going on the street in front of the establishment, it’s going on in a park without sufficient buffer zones or notices,” Southworth said.

Southworth said the bill as it reads now isn’t a final draft and admitted it probably needs some reworking.

“If it’s closed off, that might be a different issue so there’s actually some language and some ironing out some wrinkles in trying to clarify those things because 1,000 feet to a doorway that goes somewhere and I don’t know what’s going on in there, I think is not necessarily affecting minors the way it would be if it was out on the street,” Southworth said.

Grey and Jolie hope to see a change in the legislature but for now will continue performing for the LGBTQ community at gay bars across the state.

“They’re a safe place and people love people and people are happy and people are having a good time and they feel safe to do so,” Grey said.

“I know in my heart that all I’m trying to do is spread love and support and be there for my LGBTQ+ community,” Jolie said.

SB 115 has been assigned to the Military, Veteran’s Affairs and Public Protection committee of the Senate. It will still need a full reading on the Senate Floor before heading to the House.

At this time, the bill has not been acted on by the committee and it could die before it reaches action on the full senate floor.