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Ohio Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Bellefontaine Ballot Initiative to Ban Public Drag Performances

By Ken Schneck, The Buckeye Flame,

Blond Vanity at the Bellefontaine Christmas Parade

This story was originally published by the Buckeye Flame and republished here with permission.

In a whirlwind week for the rural city of Bellefontaine, a local ballot initiative to ban drag performances in public spaces is now headed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

This latest twist follows months of debate, protests and action in the 14,000-person west-central Ohio locale.

The timeline leading up to this past week:

  • Dozens of residents showed up at a Bellefontaine City Council meeting in early January to protest the inclusion of a fully-clothed drag queen in the city’s 2022 Christmas parade. That was followed by a council meeting two weeks later where more than 60 residents packed the room to speak in favor of public drag.
  • On April 14, residents opposing the drag queen’s inclusion in the parade filed a petition with the city auditor with proposed ballot language:
    • “The classification of drag artist(s) and drag shows as Adult Cabaret Performance. Adult-orientated exhibitions featuring male or female impersonators who provide displays and entertainment appealing to sexual interest, shall not permit the attendance of a minor. Adult Cabaret Performances shall not be held on public property, or any location viewable by a minor.”
  • In August, a group of residents of Bellefontaine, Ohio, turned in their petition at the Logan County Board of Elections (BOE) with 796 signatures.
  • The following week, a different group of residents filed an electoral protest with the BOE presenting discrepancies between certified copies of public records on file and pictures taken during circulation. They claimed that the petitions that were circulated and signed were fraudulently changed.

On Sept. 7, the bipartisan BOE heard the electoral protest and voted first to remove the petition from the November ballot. That vote tied 2-2.

The BOE then voted to allow the petition to be placed on the November ballot and again tied 2-2.

These split votes sent the matter to Secretary of State Frank LaRose to break the ties.

In a Sept. 19 decision sent to the BOE , LaRose sided with the original petition to place the drag ban on the November ballot. He cited that the only relevant issue was whether the full and complete title of the proposed ordinance was contained on the petitions, which he determined to have lawfully been presented.

“Based upon the evidence provided to my Office, it is my view that the initiative petition and the part-petitions presented to voters were compliant with the law,” LaRose wrote in his decision.

On Sept. 21, the five electoral protesters (Victoria Maddox, Katelyn Roby, Sarah Lewis, Chris Hildreth Blair and Marshall Blair Hildreth) filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court against LaRose and the Logan BOE.

In their complaint, the protesters allege that LaRose “acted in clear disregard of existing law.” The matter was granted an expedited review by the Supreme Court with all materials being due to the court by Oct. 4.

“Frank LaRose looks out for Frank LaRose. None of us expected him to follow the law,” said Tim Steinhelfer, an attorney representing the five electoral protesters. “We’ll see Frank LaRose in the Ohio Supreme Court.”

If the ballot measure survives this legal challenge, Bellefontaine would become the first municipality in Ohio to vote on banning public drag performances.

Although several states and local communities have passed laws and ordinances banning public drag performances via legislative processes, The Buckeye Flame was not able to find any instances of ballot measures on this topic anywhere in the country.

Ohio state legislators are currently considering HB 245 , a bill that would ban drag performances statewide in locations other than “adult cabaret.” This bill was assigned to the House Criminal Justice committee on September 12.

LGBTQ+ advocates in Ohio are speaking out against the attempt to ban public drag performances in Bellefontaine.

“We’re disappointed to see LGBTQ+ people once again used as a fear tactic to try and divide a community when, in fact, the majority of Ohioans support the LGBTQ+ community. We will work with our local partners to help voters in Bellefontaine overcome this overreaching attempt to censor expression,” said Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio .

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