ACLU of Iowa says drag show ordinances in 3 cities is ‘unconstitutional’

(ABC 6 News) – The ACLU of Iowa is asking three Iowa cities to change their ordinances that they say “unconstitutionally” classifies drag performances as “adult entertainment.”

The organization focused on 7 cities overall across the state. According to the ACLU, four of those cities have now either adjusted their ordinance or said they will do so. The ACLU is now asking the three remaining cities — Dyersville, Pella and Waukee — to amend their ordinances.

The ACLU says the ordinances are unconstitutional and classify “female impersonators,” “male impersonators,” “go-go dancers,” and “similar entertainers” as prohibited adult entertainment.

The ACLU staff attorney Shefali Aurora says the ordinances are unconstitutional for three reasons:

  • It violates free speech as an unjustifiable content restriction.
  • It’s overbroad because it includes all drag shows, regardless of whether or not they feature “erotic or sexually explicit” content, as “adult” expression.
  • It violates equal protection in targeting the LGBTQ community.

“These ordinances are being used to target drag, which has become specifically linked with the LGBTQ community, and drag performers often perform in bars and spaces that specifically cater to that community,” Aurora said.

The ACLU said drag is not by definition “adult” entertainment. It typically features fully-clothed performers singing, dancing, and performing comedy.

“These outdated ordinances go beyond prohibiting objectionable or obscene conduct and instead are obvious violations of our First Amendment right to freedom of expression and right to equal protection under the law,” said Aurora.

The ACLU of Iowa says one other Iowa community that had a similar ordinance, Eagle Grove, has already changed it. A bar owner there held a drag show in 2021 that was so popular, she planned to host another one until the City informed her of the ordinance.

“It’s my bar and I should be able to do what I want in it, as long as it’s not illegal,” said bar owner, Martha Kaiser.  “A drag show is not illegal. It’s free speech and expressing who you are. It’s my bar and I should be able to support who I want. Everyone is welcome here.”

Three others communities, Grinnell, Knoxville, and Newton, are in the process of changing their own ordinances.