ACLU, drag performers sue St. George over drag show permit denial

St. George City Hall is pictured on Oct. 11, 2020.

St. George City Hall is pictured on Oct. 11, 2020.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

A group of drag performers is suing St. George and city leaders after they were denied a special events permit to host a drag show in April.

Southern Utah Drag Stars and its CEO Mitski Avalōx say the city’s actions constitute censorship and discrimination in a suit filed in federal court Tuesday, arguing it’s “part of a years-long effort to target drag performances and LGBTQ pride events in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Utah Constitution,” according to a news release from the ACLU of Utah.

A spokesperson for St. George said the city could not comment on active litigation. However in records and City Council meetings, city leaders claim the denial was because the group violated an ordinance that prohibits event advertising before a permit is granted.

Avalōx applied for the permit on Mach 3 to host the “Allies & Community Drag Show Festival” at the J.C. Snow Park, next to I-15 and Dixie middle and high schools. The ACLU describes it as a “family-friendly drag event.”

The permit was denied by St. George leaders, according to a letter sent by Special Events Coordinator Sarah Reber, who said Avalōx was violating city ordinance that bars advertising an event before the city issues a permit.

“It has come to the City’s attention that several applicants for special event(s) have publicly advertised the special event prior to a special event permit being granted,” the letter reads.

Avalōx appealed the decision, and during a City Council meeting on April 11 the decision was upheld.

The ACLU called the ordinance an “obscure local rule” and according to the complaint filed Tuesday, “at the hearing at least one City Council Member acknowledged that advertising ban is not enforceable, but the City nonetheless denied Drag Stars’ appeal.”

ACLU of Utah, along with the ACLU’s national branch and the law firm Jenner & Block, is representing the drag group, which is seeking a preliminary injunction to let them perform this June.

This story will be updated.

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