ST. GEORGE — Last month attorneys for the City of St. George asked a federal judge to dismiss a case brought by drag show producers. The city is arguing that a show that was originally denied was able to continue and that policies related to original show’s revocation have since been repealed and replaced.

In this file photo, Friends of Southern Utah Drag Stars, St. George, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Mitski Avalōx, St. George News

The city was sued by Southern Utah Drag Stars in May over the revocation of a special events permit that would have allowed a drag show to take place on public property. However, the original permit the city issued was later revoked due to the event organizers violating city code related to event advertising.

Drag show producers took the case to federal court with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, following the St. George City Council’s denial of their appeal. In their lawsuit, event producers claim their First Amendment rights were violated and accused city officials of possibly being discriminatory toward the LGBTQ-plus community.

In June, U.S. District Judge Nuffer, who presides over the case, ordered St. George to allow the drag show to continue, stating in his order that “Public spaces are not majority spaces. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution ensures that all citizens, popular or not, majority or minority, conventional or unconventional, have access to public spaces for public expression.”

City officials chose not to appeal the judge’s ruling and the Southern Utah Drag Stars show took place at the Dixie SunBowl on July 31.

Attendees at the Southern Utah Drag Stars Allies and Community Drag Show at the Dixie Sunbowl, June 30, 2023 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Meanwhile, the City Council and staff worked on revising and replacing polices surrounding special events. That process concluded in early September with the adoption of new code, which removed and replaced the old policy that resulted in the denial of the original drag show.

“Because the event was held as requested, the City believes that the claims made in the initial lawsuit are now moot,” David Cordero, communications director for the City of St. George, said in a statement to St. George News. “The City looks forward to a successful conclusion to the litigation.”

The city’s attorneys filed a motion for a summary judgment and dismissal of the case on Dec. 21.

In the motion, Scott Young, an attorney for the city, wrote:

This action moots Plaintiffs’ allegations of exclusion from any public forum. Moreover, the new special events ordinance places the appellate jurisdiction for special event permit denials in an administrative law judge, rather than the City Council. Thus, the City Council, who Plaintiffs contend used the advertising provision and moratorium as pretext for discrimination, no longer affirms or denies decisions on permit applications. These changes are significant and afford new protections for Plaintiffs and others. Because the city ordinance in question has been repealed and replaced, the relief Plaintiffs seek in their first bullet point in their prayer for relief is moot.

While attorneys for Southern Utah Drag Stars and the ACLU Utah have a response date of Jan. 26 to reply to the motion, ACLU legal director John Mejía told Fox 13 News in a statement that the motion will be opposed.

“We will not only oppose the motion to dismiss the case, we will continue fighting for Utahns’ First Amendment rights whenever the government seeks to infringe upon those rights,” Mejia said.

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