ACLU says several city drag show ordinances are unconstitutional

DES MOINES — The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa have sent letters to city council members in Dyersville, Pella and Waukee, advising them their ordinances targeting “female or male impersonators” are unconstitutional and need to be changed.

Shefali Aurora, staff attorney with the ACLU of Iowa, says there are at least three reasons why such zoning ordinances are unconstitutional.
“First, they do violate free speech as an ‘unjustifiable content restriction.’ Second, they are overbroad because they include all drag shows, regardless of whether or not they feature erotic or sexually explicit content, under the umbrella of adult entertainment,” said Aurora. “Third, they violate equal protection in targeting the LGBTQ community.”

Aurora says anything ranging from a school play performing Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which includes a woman disguised as a man, to a female comedian with short hair and a suit, could be considered in violation of such ordinances. Thus, Aurora called on all Iowa communities to closely examine their adult entertainment zoning ordinances.

“Because these outdated ordinances go beyond prohibiting objectionable and obscene conduct, and instead are violations of First Amendment and equal protection,” she said. “We also encourage all cities in Iowa, not just the ones who received letters, to take a look at their ordinances and make sure they do not include language that classifies male and female impersonators as adult entertainment.”

Aurora says they have also reached out to communities in the state that have already amended or are in the process of amending this type of ordinance. Veronica Fowler, communications director for the ACLU of Iowa, says Eagle Grove was one of the first communities to look into changing its ordinance.

“We had heard from a bar owner who had a drag show that was very successful and she was going to have another one and then was notified by the city that there was an ordinance that prohibited it,” said Fowler. Aurora says most of the ordinances they have reviewed appear to have been passed at different times and vary in language, with some including “go-go dancers” as adult entertainment. According to the letters, ACLU officials are asking for a response from the respective cities within 14 days.