The city of St. George must issue a permit to a group of drag performers who sued in May after their application to host the “Allies & Community Drag Show Festival” at a city park was denied.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer granted a request for a preliminary injunction, siding with the performers who accused city leaders of censorship and discrimination. The performance will now take place on June 30.

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Drag performers sue St. George after city leaders deny permit for drag show

“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,” Nuffer wrote.

Southern Utah Drag Stars and its CEO Mitski Avalōx sued the city after the City Council voted to deny issuing a permit to host the festival at the J.C. Snow Park.

Avalōx originally applied for the permit on March 3. That permit was later denied by St. George leaders, who cited a city ordinance that prevents organizers from promoting an event before the city issues a permit.

According to court documents, the code had never been enforced by St. George.

In court documents, the judge writes that Avalōx was granted “verbal permission” to start advertising. And on March 31, special events coordinator Sarah Reber confirmed with Avalōx that the permit “was still being processed,” Nuffer writes. But later that day Avalōx was informed the permit had been denied.

Avalōx appealed the decision during a City Council meeting on April 11, but it was ultimately upheld. Permits for two other events who city leaders say were also violating the code were denied as well.

That denial was a violation of the First Amendment, Nuffer said on Friday.

“It is entirely understandable how politically sensitive elected and appointed officials with strong personal beliefs and preferences, a sense of community expectations and values, knowledge of historical norms and practices, and a cautious approach to change and controversy would be challenged by Plaintiffs’ application for a special event permit,” the judge wrote. “The approach to the Plaintiffs’ permit application is not unusual, and neither is this resulting lawsuit. Public officials, including judges, are not permitted to make some decisions based on personal preference or values, but must often subordinate personal interests to the obligations we have as public officials.”

In response to the ruling, the ACLU of Utah, the ACLU’s national branch, and the law firm Jenner & Block, which was representing Avalōx and Southern Utah Drag Stars, called the ruling a win for Utah.

“Quite simply, drag is protected by the First Amendment. The City of St. George’s selective and discriminatory refusal to permit a family-friendly drag event impermissibly silenced LGBTQ+ Utahns and violated our client’s constitutional rights,” said Valentina De Fex, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Utah, in a statement.

In a statement from St. George, the city said it was disappointed in the result, and was “currently evaluating our options in light of the ruling.”

“The City of St. George is committed to ensuring that our public parks and facilities remain viable and open to our residents as well as for those who may want to hold one of the many special events in our community. Our intent is always to follow the law both when we enact laws and when we enforce laws, and we will continue to do so,” the statement reads.