After months of controversy, the Board of Regents has finally updated their “minors on campus” policy in response to a student-led “kid-friendly” drag show hosted on South Dakota State University’s campus last November.
After the event took place, a Dakota News Now reporter described the show as including “age-appropriate attire, music, and behavior,” but his source was actually just one of the drag queens. One student who went to the event explained it was far from kid-friendly, saying “[The drag queens] were twerking and then also shaking their chests at people.” Video footage showed the grown men dressed in provocative lingerie and taking cash tips from participants, much like a strip club.
On November 16, FHA joined two legislators to speak out against the event and call for increased restrictions on shows advertising to children that include sexual content. One month later, with the event still causing considerable uproar in the community, the Federalist wrote a piece about SD’s “harmful to minors” law, questioning why nothing had been done to rectify the situation.
While students have the right to host events of this nature on SDSU’s campus, many saw advertising it to families and kids as a clear violation of South Dakota codified law 22-24-30, which states it is illegal to sell or give admission to minors for any “show or other presentation which depicts nudity [or] sexual conduct” and is deemed “harmful to minors.” Drag shows, by their very nature, include overtly sexual and perverted material that should not be advertised to impressionable children.
Despite 22-24-30, no legal action was taken in response to the show. Due to that, South Dakota’s House of Representatives attempted to ban “the use of state resources in hosting lewd or lascivious content” in the 2023 regular session, but the bill died in the Senate after a failed calendaring vote.
After six months of failed solutions, on May 9th the SDSU Board of Regents took action. The groundwork for the new policy was laid in December after the board first met in response to the backlash over the drag show. Their goal was to “take affirmative steps to safeguard and protect the well-being of minors visiting campus, attending university-sponsored events and programs, or participating in external organization programs and activities that utilize campus facilities.”
While the newly approved policy makes a number of changes, the most notable is the requirement that content warnings be included on programs that may contain nudity, sexual situations, violence or other explicit content.
“We threaded the needle between state statute and First Amendment issues or potential challenges,” board president Tim Rave said. “This is a good first step with the framework in place.”
The same day that the BOR approved the new policy, I joined the SD Catholic Conference podcast to discuss these issues and other obscenity bills we saw throughout the 2023 legislative session. As other states try to tackle the issue of inappropriate drag shows targeting children, it’s critical that South Dakota takes a strong stance and can act as an example for other states.
The Board of Regents should be commended for taking a step forward to protect our children from harmful content such as drag shows, but there is more work to be done. We need to press forward and ensure sexualized performances are no longer advertised to our children, especially at other venues not covered by the Board of Regents policy.