Drag Queen slams GOP nominee for Arizona governor
by By JONATHAN J. COOPER
PHOENIX (AP) — Kari Lake, the Republican primary frontrunner for Arizona governor, has condemned the growing cultural clout of drag queens, jumping into the latest social grievance taking hold on the right.
But his comments were quickly condemned over the weekend by one of Phoenix’s most popular drag performers, who said Lake was a hypocrite who frequented his performances.
Richard Stevens, who plays Barbra Seville, said Lake, a former TV news anchor, regularly attended drag shows and even hired him to dress as Marilyn Monroe at a private party and had brought his young daughter. He pictures posted on her Lake social media accounts posing with drag queens and screenshots of his conversations with her.
The dispute between the gubernatorial frontrunner and the prominent drag queen captured national attention and put Lake on the defensive two weeks before early voting began ahead of Arizona’s Aug. 2 primary. It also fuels persistent criticism of Lake’s conversion from Barack Obama donor to Donald Trump conservative.
“They kicked God out of the schools and took in the Drag Queens,” Lake tweeted Friday night. “They took down our flag and replaced it with a rainbow. They seek to disarm Americans and militarize our enemies. Let’s bring back the basics: God, guns and glory.”
Stevens responded on social media the next morning: “I played for her. I played for his family. I met his children. I’ve been to her house, and I have her private phone number and her private Facebook account.
He told The Associated Press on Monday that he stayed in touch with Lake and defended her privately even as she ran a far-right campaign he disagreed with. But when she came after the drag queens, he said, “that hypocrisy really bothered me.”
“I was personally offended by this tweet,” Stevens said.
Stevens said he first met Lake in the late 1990s when he performed regularly at a gay bar near KSAZ Studios, where Lake was an evening presenter. He said Lake and his co-workers sometimes stopped by the bar’s weekly drag show after it aired, and he recognized her from watching the news. They eventually struck up a friendship, he said. She asked him for sources to discuss issues affecting the LGBTQ community, and he occasionally appeared on Fox 10 shows.
Lake once hired him to play Marilyn Monroe at a co-worker’s baby shower about a decade ago, and there he met his daughter, who he remembers being around 9 or 10 years old.
As Stevens’ message quickly gained traction on social media on Saturday, Lake’s campaign initially responded by drawing a distinction between a drag performer and a man impersonating a female celebrity.
The campaign issued a statement on Sunday condemning the media for covering the controversy and threatening to sue Stevens for defamation.
“Like most sane people, Kari Lake is strongly opposed to adult men or women dancing provocatively for children, especially at the expense of the taxpayer,” the statement read. “Why would anyone object to that?”
The statement called Stevens “a talented comedian and performer whom Kari Lake has covered over the course of his television career” and highlighted his support for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
A Lake spokesman, Russ Trumble, declined to comment further on Monday, saying “it’s a legal matter now.”
Lake quickly jumped into the favorite position after launching a campaign that energized the GOP base and won Trump’s endorsement. She aggressively promoted false claims that the 2020 election was marred by fraud. But she faces a challenge from businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson, whose family fortune allowed her to outspend Lake on TV ads, and former U.S. Representative Matt Salmon.
Drag shows feature men dressed in flamboyant women’s clothing while dancing and singing or lip-syncing. Once a relatively obscure subculture, they exploded into the mainstream with the popularity of the TV hit “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Some performances, especially late night events in bars, can be risky. Others are presented as family affairs, like drag queen story time.
The Lake drag queen’s tweet lashed out at an issue that caught fire this month with conservatives nationwide who say that drag shows sexualize children.
Lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation to ban children from drag shows, and Arizona Senate GOP leaders have said they are planning a similar bill.
“The thing is, drag has been around forever,” Stevens said. “I’ve been in drag longer than Kari has been a Republican. But if you want to ban drag in front of kids, you better clear your calendar because it’s ingrained in our culture. The first drag queen I’ve view was Buggs Bunny.