An Ohio Republican has proposed legislation to change state child exploitation law, in response to a nine-year-old boy’s drag performance at a local bar which sparked an online furor after video was published by a fringe conservative website.
The video shows the boy, who performs as Miss Mae Hem, in a pink leotard doing cartwheels, splits and a classic drag move called a death drop, which involves falling down.
The state representative Tim Schaffer’s bill would expand the definition of child endangering to stop businesses with liquor licenses holding performances in which a “child simulates sexual activity”.
Schaffer said in a statement he was introducing the bill because of a video featuring Miss Mae Hem, which he said showed the child performing a “provocative sexually explicit dance routine”.
In the video, which runs about four minutes, Miss Mae Hem performs dance moves common to children’s dance classes as well as vogueing, a traditional drag dance style that is not inherently sexual. The performer also collects money from a cheering audience.
Miss Mae Hem, whose real name is Jacob Measley, had been performing in and around Toledo for more than a year before sparking the ire of local politicians.
The furor seems to have started with a Facebook post that claimed to be by the city of Lancaster, where the performance took place, but was actually made by an imposter account.
Mayor David Scheffler said the Facebook page that complained about the performance was “in no way affiliated with the City of Lancaster”.
“There have been serious threats of violence resulting from this post,” Scheffler said. “Let us hope and pray that no harm comes to person or property as a result of it.”
A video was also shared by Christian Journal Media, a conservative website whose editor-in-chief, Rich Penkoski, frequently campaigns against drag queens. Penkoski is a minister for the fringe Warriors for Christ ministry, which denounces most Christians and Catholics.
In an interview with the Toledo Blade, Jacob Measley’s mother, Jerri Measley, said her family’s intentions have been “grossly warped”. City police investigated complaints about the video but found no violation of state law or city ordinance. Measley said child protective services visited her home.
“Jacob is just a guy who likes to dress up and dance and feel pretty,” she said. “It’s kind of like Halloween every time he has the opportunity to do it.”
She said she understood why some people might object to her son performing in a bar, but said they were among the only venues where people could explore drag culture.
“Where else is there right now for children who identify as being in the LGBT community to explore that interest?” Measley asked.
A Democratic lawmaker in Ohio, Teresa Fedor, told the Toledo Blade she supported Schaffer’s bill and said: “When we’re trying to prevent human trafficking from happening, especially the commercial, sexual exploitation of children, I don’t see how this is not very closely related to that issue – that concept of a rape culture where we’re normalizing this type of activity.”
It is becoming more common for children to show an interest in drag culture, in part because of the wild success of the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. It is in its 11th season. Its 10th season, in 2018, had a record overall viewership of 723,000.