North Brookfield faces potential ACLU suit after barring drag show

Officials in North Brookfield, Mass., have revoked permission for a local group to hold a Pride event because it included a drag show, drawing a sharp rebuke from the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the town is trampling on the organization's constitutional rights.

The North Brookfield select board at a meeting in March at first approved a request by the Rural Justice Network to hold a “Small Town Pride Day" on the town common in June.

But the three-member board voted 2-1 at its April 11 meeting to pull permission, ruling that a drag show violated the town's restrictions on “adult entertainment." They said the event could go on without the drag show.

The ACLU in a letter dated April 18 asked the board to restore full permission for the event and asked for a response by Wednesday in order to “avoid potential litigation.”

“We call on North Brookfield and all communities in Massachusetts to recognize that discrimination against those who choose to express themselves through drag is inconsistent with our state and federal constitutions and basic democratic principles,” ACLU senior attorney Ruth Bourquin said in a statement. “Let’s be clear: Drag is a creative celebration of LGBTQ+ culture, and the government has no right to censor LGBTQ+ people and expression.”

North Brookfield's decision is another example of rising anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment across the nation, the ACLU said. The civil rights organization said it is currently tracking nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S., including some that would ban or censor performances like drag shows.

The ACLU said it had not received a reply from the town as of Tuesday afternoon and had no additional comment.

The select board was scheduled to meet in executive session on Tuesday night to discuss the issue.

Board Chair Jason Petraitis said at the April 11 meeting that he changed his mind after seeing videos from a drag show in a nearby town that contained gestures and comments that he considered inappropriate for children.

“The majority of these shows do include sexual innuendo and behavior that exaggerates all aspects of the individual’s sexuality," he said at the meeting "To wit, drag shows should be deemed adult entertainment.”

The town, 50 miles west of Boston with fewer than 5,000 residents, has a ban on adult entertainment except by special permit in industrial zones, he said.

A message seeking comment was left with Petraitis on Tuesday.

Board member Elizabeth Brooke Canada voted to allow the the drag show to go on, saying she has seen such shows and has never witnessed anything “unsavory."

Tashena Marie, a Rural Justice Network board member, said in an email that she hopes the select board has a change of heart.


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