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Cris Column graphicBy Chris Edwards

It wasn’t too awfully long ago that Tyler County had a little family friendly gender-bending fun on display for a good cause.

The Mr. Tyler County Pageants were a whale of a time for many folks, and generated funds toward the countywide Relay for Life efforts. Men from across the county strutted their stuff in evening gowns and wigs.

Pretty wholesome stuff, right?

Well, the pageants took place at the Eagle Summit, but had they taken place at a venue where alcohol was served, the events could, in the words of a ridiculous bill recently filed, be classified as a “sexually oriented business.”

Two weeks ago, Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) introduced HB 643, a bill that seeks to classify venues serving alcohol and hosting drag performances as “sexually oriented businesses.”

This time of the year, bills are being filed in the build-up to the gaveling in of the 88th legislature, and it should surprise absolutely no one that a bill like this is among the reams of potential legislation.

Patterson’s bill describes a drag performance as when “a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s assigned gender at birth, using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment.”

There are several problems with Patterson’s bill, and while it does not stand much of a chance of passing, it represents a larger issue of legislators who are too blinded by bigotry to actually serve the people.

The state of Texas heavily regulates businesses that fall under the “sexually oriented” umbrella. Such businesses do not allow anyone under the age of 18 to enter, and the businesses must keep records of each customer who enters, etc., etc., etc.

While those may be understandable regulations for an adult bookstore, what about community theatre performances where performers often gender-bend onstage? Or what is to be made of rock concerts where a male performer might don a dress for the sake of the show?

Back in the ‘90s rock stars like Kurt Cobain and Shannon Hoon weren’t afraid to sport a dress onstage, and more recently, mega-star Post Malone does the same.

If a bill like Patterson’s were to pass, it would severely limit the performance opportunities of many in the state of Texas.

And of course, if passed, there’s also the legal repercussions for those businesses fitting the description. Sexually oriented businesses must register as such with the Secretary of State and pay a registration fee with an annual renewal and prohibit children at all times. Venue owners found in violation can be fined $4,000 and sentenced to up to a year in jail.

The bill’s author is described by some as a “legislative troll.” Some of his greatest hits include the idea of banning all minors from social media, and who could forget his book-banning fiasco?

Patterson wrote a letter last March asking school districts across the state to not buy books from distributors selling books that mention LGBTQ issues; singling out Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel memoir Gender Queer, which he labelled “obscene” and “pornographic.”

There’s nothing conservative about Patterson’s quixotic nonsense. For one, a bill such as HB 643 would add another heavy layer of regulatory sheen to many entrepreneurs’ overhead. On the other hand, trying to legislate such an issue that comes down to simple freedom of choice is just another way to try and tell people how to live their lives, and another mask to hide lack of meaningful legislation.

Wallowing in anti-gay bigotry does not make one’s views conservative, and the moral panic that the state’s GOP is trying to foment around trans people and drag queens spells lack of leadership, but the challenge to counter such nonsense is upon the ideological opposites of the state’s majority party (as well as more conventional conservative voices, which I guess identify as “moderate Republicans” nowadays).

Those who oppose such measures must engage and expose why such legislative folderol will not work in the long run.

There is a bushel full of issues that legislators could focus on that have nothing to do with drag queens. What about putting more support toward law enforcement; toward better training? Or how about tackling the sky-high property taxes?

Thousands of foster children are caught up in the system, and there are legions of Texans needed better healthcare; rural folks in need of hospitals and better infrastructure, but to ask Frisco’s own Jared Patterson, the real issues affecting Texans are the performances of drag queens and supposedly pornographic library books.

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