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City Council Likely To Change Zoning Code Limiting Drag Shows (Which Was Never Really Enforced)

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Akasha Lestat Van-Cartier talks to children after a drag story hour at the Carnegie Library's North Side branch on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2018.

Pittsburgh City Council is considering a change to a zoning code dating back to the 1950s that determines where drag artists can perform.

Currently, drag performances are considered a form of "adult cabaret" and are delegated to urban industrial zones, like the Strip District. According to the code, other forms of adult cabaret include "topless dancers...exotic dancers, strippers and similar entertainers which characterize an emphasis on...specific sexual activities."

Those who are pushing to change the code, including LGBT advocates and former Councilman Dan Gilman, say they want "male and female impersonators" to be struck from the list of adult cabaret entertainment. Those present at a public hearing Thursday spoke of drag's place as an art form and the drag community's philanthropic efforts in Pittsburgh.

Gary Van Horn, president of the LGBT advocacy group the Delta Foundation, says he's not aware of any cases of the code being enforced in Pittsburgh. But he says changing it would increase protections for the LGBT community.

"Council and obviously the city have been progressive for many, many years," Van Horn said. "It's [great] to see that young folks are able to be who they want to be and perform in Pittsburgh, a welcoming and accepting city."

Max Busch, an 11-year-old drag queen who performs under the name Honey Chuckles, was one of a half-dozen speakers who urged council to change the code.

"When you change this law, you will help end bias against this community," Busch said. "You will allow space for me to perform and to see other artists, and you will help end dangerous, untrue ideas about gender."

Council President Bruce Kraus, who is also Pittsburgh's first openly gay elected official, is sponsoring the ordinance to amend the code. He said he did not anticipate any council members would oppose changing the law.

"I think this is the easiest piece of legislation we've had to vote on," Councilwoman Darlene Harris said. 

An official council vote on changing the code will take place at a later date.