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Drag shows can shimmy on, Florida judge rules

A Florida judge blocked a new state law targeting drag shows on Friday, dealing another blow to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ agenda.

ORLANDO, Fla. (CN) — Florida officials cannot ban minors from attending drag shows, a federal judge ruled Friday, until a lawsuit challenging the state’s “Protection of Children Bill goes to trial.

In his 24-page order, U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell said the law likely violates the First Amendment and the statute language is overly broad.

“This statute seeks to protect children generally from obscene live performances,” wrote Presnell, a Bill Clinton appointee. “However … Florida already has statutes that provide such protection. Rather, this statute is specifically designed to suppress the speech of drag queen performers.”

Hamburger Mary’s brought the lawsuit against the state in May, a week after Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Protection of Children Bill. The law bars any person from allowing a child to attend an “adult live performance” and authorizes the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to revoke operating and liquor licenses. The law also allows for misdemeanor prosecutions.

The statute defines an “adult live performance” as “any show, exhibition or other presentation in front of a live audience, which in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Representative Randy Fine, said at the time that the law would “protect our children by ending the gateway propaganda to this evil — ‘Drag Queen Story Time.’”

Hamburger Mary’s, which has hosted “family friendly” drag shows during brunch and dinner for over a decade, claim the law violates their free speech rights and, through self-censorship by not allowing minors, has caused a 20% decline in bookings.

“This bill has nothing to do with children and everything to do with the continued oppression of the LGBTQ+ community,” the restaurant’s owners posted on Facebook after filing the lawsuit. “Anytime our legislators want to demonize a group, they say they are coming for your children. In this case, creating a false narrative that drag queens are grooming and recruiting your children with no factual basis or history to back up these accusations at all.”

The owners could not be immediately reached for comment about the recent ruling.

Florida officials have already acted against two establishments that hosted drag shows earlier this year.

In February, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed a complaint to revoke the liquor license of the Plaza Live in Orlando after a drag show. A month later, the agency went after the Hyatt Regency Miami for hosting a Christmas-themed drag show.

Those performances occurred before the new law, so it’s unclear if Presnell’s ruling on Friday will stop the state from pursuing other drag shows in venues across the state.

Still, the judge’s order poked holes in the state’s argument that the law is designed to protect children from objectionable content.

“This concern rings hollow, however, when accompanied by the knowledge that Florida state law, presently and independently of the instant statutory scheme, permits any minor to attend an R-rated film at a movie theater if accompanied by a parent or guardian,” Presnell wrote. “Such R-rated films routinely convey content at least as objectionable as that covered by [the bill].”

Moreover, he wrote, there are already obscenity laws that “protect children from any constitutionally unprotected obscene exhibitions or shows.”

The injunction is another blow to DeSantis’ culture war agenda, which features heavily in his campaign for president, that has included bans on discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, and limiting transgender access to bathrooms. Earlier this week, another federal judge blocked a law that banned Medicare coverage for gender affirming care.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Follow @alexbpickett
Categories / Civil Rights, Entertainment, Government

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