SALT LAKE CITY — The city of St. George will need to issue a permit to a Utah-based drag group that wants to put on an all-ages show in a public park, a federal judge has ruled, calling the city’s attempt to shut down the show unconstitutional discrimination.
“Public spaces are public spaces. Public spaces are not private spaces. Public spaces are not places for the majority,” US District Judge David Nover wrote in Friday’s ruling, granting the preliminary injunction the group sought. “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures that all citizens, whether popular or not, majority or minority, traditional or nontraditional, have access to public spaces for public expression.”
The Utah Drag Stars group and its president and CEO Mitski Avalōx sued the city of St. George in May after the city refused permission to hold an all-ages drag show that was scheduled to take place in a public park in April.
A lawsuit filed in federal court accused city officials of “gross and consistent violations of their freedom of expression, their right to due process and their right to equal protection,” and asks St. George to reverse its decision and authorize the recall program at the end of June.
According to Ms. Avalōx, the city’s event coordinator told the group that they could start advertising for the April show before they got a permit. The city council then denied the permit, citing a previously unenforced order that prohibited advertising before the permit was approved.
Judge Nofer wrote in his decision that the denial of a license based on this order was grounds for discrimination.
“The officials swear to uphold, abide by, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of Utah,” Nover wrote. They do not simply serve the citizens who elect them, the majority of citizens in society, or the vocal minority in society.”
The city can no longer place a new advertising ban on the band or their show, ruled by Judge Noffer, who ordered the show to take “priority over any other event.”
Fallout from the HBO show
The City of St. George said in a statement that it is committed to ensuring that parks and public facilities remain viable and open for residents and those wishing to hold special events.
“It has always been our intention to obey the law when we make laws and when we enforce laws, and we will continue to do so,” the statement said. We have read Judge Noffer’s opinion, and while we are disappointed with the outcome, we are currently weighing our options in light of the ruling.”
The lawsuit marks the latest development in a dispute over drag shows in St. George, a conservative town 179 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Since HBO filmed a drag show in a public park last year for an episode of its “We Are Here” series, the city has become a hotspot in the national battle against drag shows, which are fueling growing political interest in Republican-controlled cities and states.
Legislatures across the country have targeted public events such as the drag queen story event and the all-ages event Ms. Avalix intends to host. In May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a ban on minors attending drag shows, and Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a ban on people in children’s speed-reading clothing in schools and public libraries.
In Utah, the state House of Representatives in March considered a motion by a Republican from St. George to require cautionary notices for events such as drag parades or Pride parades in public spaces halted thereafter. The suggestion followed negative reactions to the HBO-produced show St. George.
City officials issued permits for the show after some local council members and activists objected. City manager Adam Lienhard resigned months later after writing to council members saying he could not legally refuse performance permits, according to emails obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Ms. Avalōx founded the Southern Utah Drag Stars group in hopes of bringing drag shows to members of the LGBTQ+ community in a rural location where these forms of entertainment are often lacking.
“I’ve made it my mission to continue to do these events and not just one month a year, but to do it for people who were like me when I was young.[They]can see that there are gay adults leading lives long and full. My biggest ambition was to provide a public space where people could go to the park and enjoy a show for everyone.”
“Food trailblazer. Passionate troublemaker. Coffee fanatic. General analyst. Certified creator. Lifelong music expert. Alcohol specialist.”