Revelers at an LGBTQ Pride parade

Southern Utah Drag Stars, LLC v. City of St. George

Location: Utah
Status: Ongoing
Last Update: June 12, 2023

What's at Stake

This case is about whether a city government’s selective and discriminatory refusal to permit a family-friendly drag event in a public park violated the event organizers’ First Amendment right to free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, and related provisions contained in the Utah Constitution.

In March 2023, Mitski Avalox applied to the City of St. George for a permit to host a family-friendly drag event at a local park. The event, to be hosted by Avalox’s organization, Southern Utah Drag Stars, was envisioned as a celebration of the local LGBTQ+ community in the wake of recent anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and violence. The city denied the Drag Stars’ application, supposedly because the Drag Stars had violated a seldom-used rule which prohibits advertising for special events before the permit is formally granted. This advertising ban is not routinely enforced—nor could it be. If it were, advertising events would be practically impossible, since the city typically doesn’t issue a permit until shortly before an event takes place. Nevertheless—and despite one city council-member’s explicit acknowledgement that the advertising ban is unworkable—the city upheld the Drag Stars’ permit denial on appeal.

This is not the only action St. George took to suppress drag performers’ expression in the city. While the permit for the Drag Stars’ event was pending, the city suspended consideration of any new special events permits for six months, effectively denying the Drag Stars an opportunity to submit a new permit application following the initial rejection. The city later exempted “city sponsored” events from its six-month moratorium on new permit applications, with the result that city officials can selectively grant permits to favored events while denying all others.

St. George’s special events policies discriminate against drag performances and are so inscrutable that nobody can know what is allowed and what forbidden, as the Southern Utah Drag stars alleged in a lawsuit filed in May. The sum of the city’s policies and actions in response to the Drag Stars’ permit have denied local drag performers the ability to perform, in drag, in public spaces within St. George. Singing, dancing, and dressing expressively are all protected by the First Amendment, whether city officials like it or not. Drag Stars has asked the court to reverse the event permit denial and scrap the advertising ban and special events moratorium.

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