PHOENIX ( Associated Press) — Cary Lake, leader of the Republican primaries for governor of Arizona, has denounced the growing cultural influence of drag queens, jumping into the latest social discontent sweeping the right.
But her comments were quickly denounced over the weekend by one of Phoenix’s most popular drag acts, who said Lake was a hypocrite who frequented his performances.
Richard Stevens, who plays Barbra Seville, said that Lake, a former television news anchor, regularly attended drag shows and even hired him to dress up as Marilyn Monroe at a private party and brought his young daughter with him. He posted pictures on her social media accounts, Lake poses with drag queens and screenshots of his conversations with her.
A dispute between a gubernatorial candidate and a prominent drag queen has drawn national attention and put Lake on the defensive two weeks before early voting starts ahead of the Aug. 2 Arizona primary. It also fuels persistent criticism of Lake’s transformation from Barack Obama’s donor to Donald Trump’s conservative.
“They kicked God out of schools and welcomed transvestites,” Lake tweeted Friday night. “They took down our Flag and replaced it with a rainbow. They seek to disarm the Americans and militarize our enemies. Let’s take back the basics: God, weapons and glory.”
Stevens responded on social media. the next morning: “I performed for her. I performed for her family. I met her children. I was at her house and I have her personal phone number and her personal Facebook account.”
On Monday, he told The Associated Press that he kept in touch with Lake and privately defended her, even as she ran a far-right campaign, which he disagrees with. But when she came for the transvestites, he said, “this hypocrisy really bothered me.”
“I was personally offended by this 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 the evening host. He said that Lake and her co-stars sometimes dropped by the weekly drag show at the bar after the broadcast, and he recognized her from watching the news. They eventually became friends, he says. She asked him to provide sources for discussing issues affecting the LGBT community, and he sometimes appeared on Fox 10 shows.
Lake once hired him to perform as Marilyn Monroe at a colleague’s baby shower about ten years ago, and there he met her daughter, who he remembers was about 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 male posing as a celebrity.
Campaign released a statement on Sunday condemning the media for covering the dispute and threatening to sue Stevens for defamation.
“Like most sane people, Kari Lake is vehemently opposed to grown men or women dancing provocatively for children, especially at the expense of the taxpayer,” the statement said. “Why should anyone be against it?”
The statement called Stephens “a talented comedian and performer who Cary Lake covered during her television career” and pointed to his support for Secretary of State Kathy Hobbs, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
Lake spokesman Russ Trumble on Monday declined to comment further, saying “it’s now a legal matter.”
Lake quickly took the lead after launching a campaign that revitalized the Republican Party’s base. and earned Trump’s approval. She actively promoted false claims that the 2020 election was marred by fraud. But she’s facing challenge from businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson, whose family fortune has allowed her to vastly outdo Lake in TV commercials, and former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon.
At the drag show, the men dress in brightly colored women’s clothing, dance, sing or lip-synch. Once a relatively obscure subculture, they went mainstream thanks to the popularity of the TV hit “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. Some shows, especially late-night bar shows, can be risky. Others are advertised as family events, such as drag queen story hour.
Lake’s tweet about drag queens seized on an issue that sparked a backlash this month among conservatives across the country who say drag shows sexualize children.
Lawmakers in several states have introduced a bill seeking to ban children from drag shows, and GOP leaders in the Arizona Senate say they have plans for a similar bill.
“The thing is, the drag has always been around,” Stevens said. “I’ve been dragging for longer than Carey has been a Republican. But if you want to ban drag and drop in front of kids, you’d better free up your calendar because it’s ingrained in our culture. The first transvestite I saw was Buggs Bunny.”