Anti-Drag Candidate for Ariz. Governor Was Once a Supporter, Drag Queen Friend Says: 'Complete Hypocrite'

Kari Lake, the Trump-backed GOP candidate in Arizona's gubernatorial race, has taken a hard stance against drag queens recently, accusing them of "grooming" children

Kari Lake, Kari Lake with Drag Queen Barbra Seville
Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty; Barbra Seville/Facebook

A candidate for Arizona governor is under scrutiny after a drag queen accused her political platform of being hypocritical.

Kari Lake, the Trump-backed candidate currently leading polls in her GOP primary race, has taken a strong stance against drag performers amid conservative lawmakers' calls to ban drag anywhere minors are present.

Lake, 52, has said that drag is a form of "grooming," a phrase that is traditionally used to describe pedophiles coercing children into a sexual relationship, but has recently become a catch-all phrase used by conservatives to characterize LGBTQ+ visibility as a sexualized indoctrination of children. And in a Twitter post Friday, she wrote, "They kicked God out of schools and welcomed the Drag Queens. They took down our Flag and replaced it with a rainbow."

One day after Lake's anti-drag tweet gained traction, Richard Stevens — better known as Phoenix drag queen Barbra Seville — shared a post on Facebook claiming the gubernatorial candidate was once an avid supporter of the profession.

"Now that [Lake] has waded in to the war on drag queens, know she is a complete hypocrite," Stevens wrote. "I've performed for Kari's birthday, I've performed in her home (with children present) and I've performed for her at some of the seediest bars in Phoenix."

"Kari was a friend of mine, and I stood by her when she turned to the right," Stevens said. "I reached out (and she responded repeatedly) when she took a public drubbing."

Alongside Stevens' post, he shared images that depict their apparent friendship, including screenshots of their interactions and a photo of Lake posing with him at a drag show.

Lake, who previously said she has several gay friends, has been criticized by the LGBTQ+ community throughout her gubernatorial run for her stances on policies affecting the community. In a February debate, she stated that she would not support state anti-discrimination laws that make LGBTQ+ people a protected class, calling them an "infringement on religious freedom."

She added that even her gay friends "are appalled by what's happening" with the direction of the gay rights movement and the all-inclusive LGBTQ+ acronym. "We need to stop some of this nonsense," she said at the time. "It's out of control. It's poisoning the minds of our people."

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On Sunday, Lake's campaign team responded to Stevens' claims, discrediting him as "radicalized" and someone whose interests serve Katie Hobbs, the current Democratic frontrunner for Arizona governor.

"Like most sane people, Kari Lake is very much opposed to grown men or women dancing provocatively for children, especially at the expense of the taxpayer," the statement reads. "Why would anyone be opposed to this?"

"This shouldn't be controversial, but for some very nefarious reasons, the Media and Leftist Activists are choosing this hill to die on," it continues, later adding: "Why is the Media fighting so hard to defend the Grooming of our Children?"

Stevens' rebuttal — in an interview with — is his alleged recollection of Lake allowing her own daughter to attend a drag performance, and her dismissal of the fact that family-friendly drag shows are not hyper-sexualized.

While Lake's statement did not directly address Stevens' argument that the gubernatorial candidate's values have shifted throughout her political career, it did denounce media outlets' coverage of politics and threatens defamation lawsuits to anyone who reports Stevens' "lies as truth."

Lake's campaign did not respond to PEOPLE's request for additional comment about her alleged involvement with drag queens in the past.

In the weeks since Republican lawmakers have latched onto an agenda that targets family-friendly drag performances — often promoting a narrative that drag is inherently explicit — the nation has seen a trickle effect of hatred spilling into Pride Month events.

On June 11, members of the Proud Boys, a far-right men's group known for espousing hateful views and instigating violence, stormed a Drag Queen Story Hour event at a Northern California library, where a drag queen was reading to children, parents and members of the community.

Once inside the library, the men allegedly "began to shout homophobic and transphobic slurs at the event organizer," according to a release by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. "The men were described as extremely aggressive with a threatening violent demeanor causing people to fear for their safety."

The same weekend, 31 white nationalists were arrested in riot gear outside an Idaho Pride celebration and accused of planning to overtake the event.

Additional acts of hate have been documented around the nation this month, as safe places for LGBTQ+ people to gather are continually being identified as targets among right-wing groups.

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