JEFFERSON CITY — Drag performers and LGBTQ advocates gathered at the Capitol to protest a bill that could prohibit drag performers from reading at children's story times in Missouri public libraries.

House Bill 2044, the "Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act," was proposed by Rep. Ben Baker.

It would prohibit "age inappropriate sexual material" in public libraries across the state. The bill describes age inappropriate material as, "any description or representation ... of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse."

Librarians who violate the act could be fined $500 and be imprisoned for up to one year. 

To protest HB 2044, dozens of drag performers held a storybook reading in front of the Capitol building. Meanwhile, about a dozen supporters of the bill stood across the street holding signs that read, "American kids deserve better than drag."

Some bill supporters traveled from other states to attend the rallies. Brien James said he drove from Indiana to show his support for Rep. Baker's bill.

"We came in support of the measures to protect children," he said. "[This bill] is aimed at protecting children before they're old enough to do so."

Parents brought more than 50 children to the drag story time reading. Opponents of the bill said they created a line of rainbow umbrellas in front of the children to shield them from counter protestors.

The Parasol Patrol is an advocate group from Denver that traveled to Jefferson City to protest the bill. Pasha Eve, the group's co-founder, explained why it's important for children to interact with people who don't conform to gender stereotypes.

"We want to emphasize a love of reading and a love of learning to kids," Eve said. "It is a way to learn how to interact with different people from all different walks of life."

HB 2044 is filed but has not been sent to committee yet.

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