Drag Performers Sue over Texas Bill That Would Prevent ‘Sexually Explicit Displays’
Last Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — alongside inconvenienced and agitated drag queens — filed a lawsuit against a new Texas law (SB 12) that would prevent drag performers “from engaging in sexually explicit displays” in front of children under the age of 18.
In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R-Texas) signed the law that is set to go into effect on September 1, but drag performers raised immediate concerns about the general verbiage of the bill. Although the policy was “initially meant to bar children from attending drag shows,” it “was changed to remove specific references to drag performances,” ultimately broadening certain terms.
Brian Klosterboer, attorney at the ACLU of Texas, claimed that the “broad in scope” bill would “chill entire genres of free expression in our state,” which is why his organization decided to file a lawsuit.
“This law flies in the face of the First Amendment,” he told The Associated Press. “No performer should ever be thrown in jail because the government disfavors their speech.” Once in effect, violators of SB 12 could face $10,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.
Although Klosterboer argues that the bill — sponsored by 46 Republicans — may jeopardize performers’ speech as well as other art forms, it primarily focuses on banning sexually explicit performances by drag queens. Under Section 3 of the bill, a “sexually oriented performance” is defined as a visual performance featuring “a performer who is nude, a male performer exhibiting as a female, or a female performer exhibiting as a male.” In laymans terms, drag queens would be banned from performing anything sexual or appearing nude in front of children in the public sphere.
The lawsuit ACLU filed, hoping to undermine the law’s terminology, specifically took issue with the lack of a definition for “visual performance.”
“‘Visual performance’ is not defined in SB 12 or elsewhere in Texas law,” the lawsuit read. “This
means that the Drag Ban could apply broadly to a number of different art forms such as theater, dance, musicals, synchronized swimming, sports competitions, as well as other visual media.”
This is not the only term that the lawsuit took issue with. The ACLU also claimed that SB 12 contains a whole collection of “undefined or capaciously defined terms that target and sweep in vast amounts of protected expression.” While the lawsuit works its way through the courts, conservatives are speaking up on why the law should take effect.
“I selected SB 12 to be a top priority of mine because someone must fight back against the radical Left’s degradation of our society and values,” Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick stated when the bill was originally passed. “I will not allow Texas children to be sexualized and scarred for life by harmful drag performances.”
Similarly, Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, expressed the importance that this bill holds.
“As a parent, I do want to know that if I take my children to the park, they are not going to see any type of sexual performance or sexual activity. I want all families to have an experience in nature that is not demeaning to the human person,” she told The Washington Stand. “People are so outraged about this assault on the innocence of children that state legislatures are actually working to pass these laws.”
With SB 12 weeks away from being enacted, Texas joins a long list of states that have worked to ban drag performances in front of children. In February, Arkansas also took action to ban “adult-oriented” performances through SB 43. Although the bill does not explicitly target drag performances, it does focus on “whether we should be exposing our children to sexually explicit behavior,” said Representative Mary Bentley (R-Ark.).
In May, Montana became the first state to successfully ban drag performances in public places.
“We can set foot on the ground here and start something across the country that many other states are going to follow,” Representative Braxton Mitchell (R-Mont.) said. Since HB 359 came into effect, other states have indeed followed suit.
“I really appreciate legislatures that are willing to address this issue,” Kilgannon said. “It tells everybody how upset people are about the situation. It is evident that it’s not just one particular state that is concerned about this. There are other states and other parts of the country who see this as a problem.”