On Monday, The North Carolina Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 579, “Prevent Harm to Children,” which increases penalties for presenting obscene materials to minors.

“This is a simple update that addresses some of the more disturbing trends we’ve seen in recent years,” said bill sponsor Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, in a statement following the vote. “Our society is heading in the wrong direction, and this bill says we’re not going to let children face such corruption.”

The bill does not change the state’s 1974 definition of obscenity, but rather makes violating the state’s existing law a Class H felony. State law prohibits “disseminating obscene material or engaging in an obscene performance in the presence of a minor.” A Class H felony could mean jail time on the first offense.

The wrong direction Newton references is the trend of drag shows labeled as “family friendly” appearing in public libraries or other events targeted to children.

A series of Drag Queen Story Hours was held recently in Durham and at the N.C. Museum of Art, among other places, involving men dressing up in over-the-top female clothing and reading a book. In other cases, the event is a dance show by the performers, with videos often going viral on social media, showing children being encouraged to put dollar bills in the dancers’ garments or themselves perform drag for the adults.

“If you don’t commit obscene acts in front of children then you have nothing to worry about,” said bill sponsor Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson. “The fact that there has been opposition speaks volumes to where we are as a society and why the bill is needed.”

In the Triangle, most of the DQSH shows are associated with the “House of Coxx” in Durham, and publicity of the events has indicated that the shows are meant for children.

A criminal investigation is currently underway after a similar show on the campus of Forsyth Technical Community College in March was on school property and open to all students, including high school age and minors. A video from the event spread through social media showing a drag performer straddling a minor. 

“What happened at Forsyth Tech was a clear indication that we’ve got to do something at the state level,” said bill sponsor Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke. “This bill is an appropriate step that will help put an end to this string of vulgar behavior.” 

Public libraries have increasingly been host to the DQSH events. The American Library Association has created a page in support of them, calling it part of a children’s programming agenda to “build cultural competence.”

The North Carolina House of Representatives will now consider Senate Bill 579.