A drag performer filed discrimination charges against Cottonwood City Council

Cottonwood, Ariz. — The owner and creator of a rural drag charity performance has filed a discrimination charge with the city of Cottonwood and the city council after its members voted to remove the organization’s liquor license from its event in April this past year. 

Christopher Hall, who performs as Miss Nature and runs the Miss Nature LLC brand, hosts an annual tour in rural Arizona towns and cities called Arizona Pride Tour. The performance raises money for charity as through family-friendly drag shows, Hall said.

In April this past year, Hall brought the private drag show to Cottonwood, which was met with ferocious feedback from far-right community members and religious leaders who showed up at city council meetings.  

On April 4, four days before the event, there were worries that the drag show would have been canceled completely, prompting the ACLU of Arizona to write a legal letter to the City of Cottonwood’s lawyer, Justin Pierce. The civil rights group said they were “fully prepared to take emergency legal action” to protect first amendment rights for the performers and the audience members. 

The members, instead, voted to remove the liquor license from the show. Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski, said it was for “security reasons.”

However, Hall said that the council removing the liquor license was discriminatory. 

In his complaint with the Attorney General’s Office’s civil rights division, Hall said that he had approval by the council for both a liquor license as well as a rental application for the space, and had paid for two off-duty officers to “ensure adherence to the existing laws that protect our children from exposure to sexually explicit content or behavior.”

The liquor license was not granted to Hall, but to a local business that was partnering with the drag show. 

Hall said the council “did not inform us of the alleged safety concerns,” or speak with them on how to mitigate any further issues brought by the community. 

In the city’s response, it said that “Mr. Hall failed to provide any evidence to support his allegations,” and mentioned that Hall had not actually gained a liquor license through the council, because he was not eligible for one. 

Since he was not the one denied the liquor license, Pierce said, the city could not be charged with discrimination. 

LOOKOUT reached out to Mayor Elinski and left voicemails at his office, but none were returned. 

“It seems like that they’re using some kind of unspecified safety concern as a way to justify denying a liquor license, when the real reason they’re denying this is they don’t agree with the sort of content of the performance,” said Jared Keenan, the legal director for the ACLU of Arizona. Keenan said that there are other citywide events that have marked security concerns, but liquor licenses were never revoked. 

Since the charge, the Attorney General’s office has met with Hall to discuss his rebuttal, and they have a year to make a determination on if they will file a civil claim against the city, according to the attorney general’s website

While Hall’s touring drag show has long passed, bigoted rhetoric around the queer community in Cottonwood hasn’t settled down. 

At an emergency city council meeting last week, one of the council members, Lisa DuVernay, a conservative, tried to get an ordinance proposed that would ban drag shows where minors would be present. She said that other states, such as Tennessee, have similar laws in place, and that Cottonwood would not find itself in legal troubles. 

But other states have, indeed, found themselves in pricey legal battles: Tennessee’s drag ban was overturned after a federal judge called the law unconstitutional. Texas’s drag ban is currently being challenged. Lawmakers in Arkansas had to gut a similar bill and remove drag from the list of performances. And Florida’s ban on drag in public also has been blocked by a federal judge from moving forward. 

At the council meeting, DuVernay showed a video of an Austin, Texas Christmas drag show held in December last year and positioned local drag as sexual and inappropriate for children.

“A lot of people within the crowd thought that that was a clip from (Hall’s drag show),” said Molly Heckman, a Cottonwood resident who advocates for the LGBTQ+ community locally. “So she is intentionally using her platform to manipulate her constituents into making the situation look a lot worse than it is.”

LOOKOUT attempted to reach DuVernay by phone and email, but did not receive a response. 

The council voted against the measure 4-3, with Vice Mayor Debbie Wildem saying, “It would put the city under attack legally.”

In her response, DuVernay claimed that she, instead, was being discriminated against. She went on to say that she would hire an outside lawyer to draft an ordinance in the hopes of bypassing the city council’s vote. 

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