PHOENIX (AP) — Kari Lake, the frontrunner in the Republican primary for Arizona governor, condemned the growing cultural influence of drag queens and jumped into the latest social grievance sweeping the right.
But her comments were quickly slammed over the weekend by one of Phoenix’s most popular drag performers, who says Lake was a hypocrite who attended his performances.
Richard Stevens, who stars as Barbra Seville, said Lake, a former TV news anchor, regularly attended drag shows and even hired him to dress up as Marilyn Monroe at a private party and bring her baby daughter. He posted photos on his social media accounts of Lake posing with drag queens and screenshots of his conversations with her.
The row between the gubernatorial frontrunner and the celebrity drag queen drew national attention and put Lake on the defensive two weeks before snap voting began ahead of the Aug. 2 Arizona primary. It also fuels ongoing criticism of Lake’s transformation from Barack Obama donor to Donald Trump conservative.
“They kicked god out of schools and welcomed the drag queens,” Lake tweeted Friday night. “They took down our flag and replaced it with a rainbow. They are trying to disarm the Americans and militarize our enemies. Let’s bring back the basics: God, Guns and Glory.”
Stevens responded on social media the next morning: “I performed for them. I performed for her family. I have met their children. I was at her house and have her private phone number and private Facebook account.”
He told The Associated Press on Monday he had stayed in touch with Lake and privately defended her even as she ran a far-right campaign he disagreed with. But when she got to drag queens, he said, “That hypocrisy really bothered me.”
“I was just personally offended by that tweet,” Stevens said.
Stevens said he first met Lake in the late 1990s when he was a regular performer at a gay bar near KSAZ studios, where Lake was an evening host. He said Lake and her colleagues sometimes stopped by the bar’s weekly drag show after the show, and he recognized them from the news. They eventually formed a friendship, he said. She asked him for sources to discuss issues affecting the LGBTQ community and he has occasionally appeared on Fox 10 shows.
Lake once hired him to perform as Marilyn Monroe at a co-worker’s baby shower about a decade ago, and it was there that he met her daughter, who he remembers being around 9 or 10 years old.
As Stevens’ post quickly gained traction on social media on Saturday, Lake’s campaign initially responded by distinguishing between a drag performer and a man posing as a female celebrity.
The campaign released 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 very opposed to adult men or women dancing provocatively for children, particularly at taxpayer expense,” the statement said. “Why would anyone object?”
The statement named Stevens a “talented comedian and performer whom Kari Lake covered throughout her television career” and noted his support for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
A spokesman for Lake, Russ Trumble, declined to comment further Monday, saying, “It is now a legal matter.”
Lake quickly jumped into the front-runner position after embarking on a campaign that energized the GOP base and garnered Trump’s endorsement. She has aggressively spread false claims that the 2020 election was marred by fraud. But she faces a challenge from businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson, whose family fortune has enabled her to comfortably outperform Lake for television commercials, and former US Rep. Matt Salmon.
Drag shows feature men dressing in extravagant women’s clothing while dancing and singing or lip syncing. Once a relatively obscure subculture, they have exploded into the mainstream with the popularity of hit television “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Some performances, especially late-night bar events, can be risky. Others are advertised as family-friendly events, such as B. the drag queen story lesson.
Lake’s drag queen tweet followed up on an issue that caught fire this month with conservatives across the country who say drag shows are sexualizing children.
Lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation attempting to ban children from drag shows, and Arizona Senate GOP leaders say they have plans for a similar bill.
“The fact is, drag has always existed,” Stevens said. “I’ve been dragging for longer than Kari has been a Republican. But if you want to ban drag in front of kids, you should share your calendar because it’s ingrained in our culture. The first drag queen I saw was Bugs Bunny.”