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Arizona GOP candidate who criticized drag was once a fan, drag queen says

Kari Lake, left, a GOP candidate for Arizona governor who has criticized drag, poses with drag queen Richard Stevens. According to Stevens, the pair were friends for more than 20 years and Lake attended at least 15 shows. (Courtesy of Richard Stevens)
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Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who has attacked drag queens as dangerous to children, attended the shows of drag queen Richard Stevens for more than 20 years and once hired him to perform at her home, according to Stevens.

Stevens, who said he has performed across the country for 25 years as Barbra Seville, accused the Trump-endorsed Lake of being a “complete hypocrite.”

“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,” Stevens wrote on Facebook.

Drag queens have become a lightning rod on the right amid false claims they are grooming children, using a sinister label some Republicans are applying to virtually any discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity ahead of November’s midterms. Authorities say members of the Proud Boys disrupted a children’s story hour with drag queens at a California library earlier this month, prompting a hate crime investigation. Following other conservative state lawmakers, Republican leaders in the Arizona state Senate announced last week they would seek to bar minors from drag shows in the state.

Lake, who is leading recent GOP primary polls, tweeted Friday, “They kicked God out of schools and welcomed the Drag Queens. They took down our Flag and replaced it with a rainbow.” In later posts, she accused drag queens of “grooming” children.

In response, Stevens posted several photos of Lake posing with him in full drag, including one in which Lake is wearing a shirt promoting Stevens’s charity drag event and another in which Lake is dressed as Elvis. Lake’s public Instagram also featured a photo of her at one of Stevens’s performances.

Lake’s campaign acknowledged that Stevens was “once a friend” and that Lake had attended an event with a “Marilyn Monroe impersonator.” Spokesperson Ross Trumble told The Washington Post on Monday that Stevens’s post is “full of defamatory lies” and that Lake will be “pursuing legal action” against him.

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Stevens, 49, said in an interview that Lake, previously a longtime anchor at Fox 10 Phoenix, started attending shows with some of her colleagues in the late 1990s. The two developed a friendship, and he estimated Lake attended 15 to 20 of his shows over the next two decades.

According to Stevens, Lake and her husband once hired him to perform drag at her birthday party, and then later hired him to perform at her home as Marilyn Monroe during a baby shower she was hosting for a colleague. During the baby shower, Lake introduced him to her young daughter, Stevens said.

In December 2014, Lake posted a photo on Instagram tagging Stevens in the caption: “Half of what I know about makeup I learned from watching friends like @barbraseville.” The post was removed after The Post contacted Lake’s campaign Monday afternoon.

Trumble told the Arizona Republic that Lake attended a baby shower where Stevens “showed up as a Marilyn Monroe impersonator,” but appeared to differentiate between the private event and a drag show.

“Not once has her daughter been to a drag show but since she is over the age of 18, if she chooses to do so, that’s completely up to her,” Trumble said in a statement to The Post.

Stevens said he and Lake continued to correspond over the years, even as she moved to the right politically and announced her campaign for governor in June 2021. Though he described himself as an “outspoken liberal,” Stevens said he maintained the friendship because Lake had supported his efforts to raise money for AIDS research, and he hoped she would continue to do so as governor.

The pair last corresponded in late 2021, though Lake had not attended any shows since before the pandemic, he said.

In a statement posted Sunday on Twitter, Lake’s campaign wrote that she is “very much opposed to grown men or women dancing provocatively for children, especially at the expense of the taxpayer.” The statement said that Stevens was a former friend who “has become radicalized in recent years,” and that Lake would be serving Stevens a defamation lawsuit.

Stevens said he “definitely intended to injure her campaign” with the post.

“The point of it was to let people know that she is a hypocrite — you can’t trust her,” he said.

Opponents in the crowded GOP gubernatorial primary had already zeroed in other aspects of Lake’s past to question her conservative bona fides. A recent ad for her main rival, Karrin Taylor Robson, branded her “Fake Lake” and accused her of “hiding her liberal record.” At a packed local GOP meeting in Glendale last week, Lake got a question about her past support of Democrats, including former president Barack Obama.

Lake said she spent most of her life registered as a Republican but voted for Obama over John McCain, seeking someone who would stop “these endless wars.”

“So we gave it a shot with a new guy, and we were excited about our first Black president. We thought he would bring this country together. I think everybody was disappointed when he did just the opposite,” Lake said.

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 100 people, she suggested her opponents are scrambling for ammo “at a time when Democrats are waking up at record levels to the lies of the Democrat party.”

Lake spent some of the event denouncing what she called a “push of transgenderism” and “grooming of our children” in schools.

Such inflammatory rhetoric on gay rights has increasingly entered the GOP mainstream. Florida passed a bill in March banning instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” until the third grade, justifying the legislation as an “anti-grooming bill.” This past weekend, the Republican Party of Texas adopted a party platform that calls homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice.”

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Stevens, the drag performer, said the “sudden interest in drag queens” on the national level is “false outrage.”

He said he is certain Lake is not afraid of him and does not see him as a “pervert.” But he said he feared the consequences her words might have.

“What bothers me is that you’re using me to scare people,” he said. “And you’re misrepresenting me, and ultimately, that puts me at risk. It puts me in danger.”

Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.

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