Stanly commissioners approve zoning amendment requiring permits for ‘prurient’ drag shows

ALBEMARLE — With a 6-1 vote at the Stanly County Board of Commissioners meeting on July 10, the board approved a new text amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance that classifies male or female impersonators appealing to a “prurient interest” as adult live entertainment. 

Due to the new classification, drag shows deemed under the category of prurience can now only be held at a location that has received a special use permit as an adult establishment from the Board of Adjustment. 

The new zoning language is a direct citation of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of prurient: “marked by or arousing an immoderate or unwholesome interest or desire especially marked by, arousing, or appealing to sexual desire.” 

Although the Stanly County Zoning Ordinance already restricted adult entertainment to the Highway Business district with permits granted if certain conditions are met, the modified definitions for adult establishments and adult live entertainment within Section 607.2 and Section 13.3 will add additional regulations for local business owners wanting to host drag shows. 

The new definition for adult live entertainment within the county under Section 13.3 is “a performance featuring topless dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, or male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration.” 

On June 19, the Stanly County Planning Board unanimously approved the new text amendment after previously receiving a request from the County’s Administration to address drag shows.  

The North Carolina General Assembly is currently considering language which may address this issue statewide under House Bill 673, also titled “Clarify Regulations on Adult Entertainment.” 

The lone nay vote for the new text amendment, Commissioner Peter Asciutto, stated that deciding what is or isn’t prurient in relation to a drag show requires an overabundance of subjectivity. 

Among other examples of drag and prurient ambiguity, he brought up an example of a previous event held by Stanly County Relay for Life — in an attempt to raise money for the American Cancer Society — where men donned women’s dresses in a “womanless beauty pageant.” 

Asciutto asked Stanly County Chief Zoning Officer and Planning Director Bob Remsburg if that event would have qualified as being prurient. 

Remsburg responded: “We’re complaint-driven, so first of all, someone is going to have to complain that ‘we don’t think the Relay for Life event is appropriate and it may be appealing to a prurient interest. Then, we’d have to investigate that, and chances are, the complaint is going to happen after the event and not before it happens…If it’s after the fact, there’s not a whole lot we can do other than sending a letter that says ‘don’t do it again.’” 

Remsburg added that although an approval for a special use permit could take a month and a half, additional instances of the ordinance violation would result in increasing fines.  

Commissioner Patty Crump provided input on zoning change: “This is really about some of the drag shows that we’re seeing that are coming into a space that could be dangerous for children to be around. And quite frankly, maybe the people in Stanly County would not want this here.” 

Following the 6-1 vote, Asciutto once again referenced his examples of drag — ranging from theater productions at the Agri-Civic Center to local Powderpuff football games where boys and girls have traded attire — and asked how to differentiate them from Albemarle’s first-ever drag show at Tiffany’s at the Boardroom last September. 

“I just read off about six or seven things that are considered drag, and you said, ‘well, that’s okay.’ This seems like it is all about fear and hate,” Asciutto said. “My gosh, drag has been around for centuries, and it’s okay. I don’t see a problem with it. That’s just people living their lives, and here we are; we’re taking away somebody’s freedom. If they want to do that, let them do that.” 

The Stanly County Board of Commissioners is set to hold its next regular meeting on Aug. 7 at Stanly County Commons in Albemarle.