ACLU files lawsuit against drag show restrictions in Texas

The law goes into effect in September.

August 3, 2023, 11:32 AM

The ACLU of Texas is representing local LGBTQ groups, businesses, and a drag performer in a lawsuit against the state officials who will enforce Senate Bill 12, which restricts "sexually oriented performances," arguing that the law unconstitutionally violates the First and Fourteenth amendments.

The law doesn't specifically mention drag performances, but local politicians have made it clear that the law is intended on restricting drag performances in the state.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement that the bill would prohibit "sexualized performances and drag shows in the presence of a minor." The law is set to go into effect on Sept. 1.

The law restricts the "exhibition or representation, actual or simulated, of male or female genitals in a lewd state" as well as "the exhibition of sexual gesticulations using accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics" which could restrict the use of cross-dressing in public performances, according to the bill. These performances would be restricted from public properties or in the presence of someone under the age of 18.

The ACLU of Texas said the state "has threatened the livelihood and free expression of many Texans." The plaintiffs say their performances and events have been impacted by the impending law, experiencing "financial loss of business, threats to their personal safety" and censorship.

The organization argues that the law could censor several types of performances -- including touring Broadway plays, theater performances, professional cheerleading routines and drag shows -- from public spaces or anywhere that someone under the age of 18 may be present.

PHOTO: FILE - People chant and march through the Texas State Capitol, April 20, 2023 in Austin, Texas.
People chant and march through the Texas State Capitol, April 20, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Community members and activists rallied together in protest against numerous anti-LGBTQIA+ and drag bills being proposed in the legislature.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images, FILE

Critics of the law argue that drag shows are being sensationalized and negatively portrayed for political points. Drag shows are "a creative outlet to those who have endured life's adversities, systematic oppression, and denial of our nation's inalienable rights," said Verniss McFarland III, founder and executive director of The Mahogany Project, an advocacy group for queer people of color.

"Texas queens and kings from across our great state have been targets of threats and misinformation as a result of the anti-drag law," said Brigitte Bandit, a drag artist, in a statement to ABC News.

She continued, "We must reject their attempts to divide us and continue to come together in our truth and power to support each other as Texans should. Our community will not be used as a scapegoat or a distraction by politicians who do not know who we are or what we do."

Drag shows have become the target of threats and criticism across the country, mostly in conservative-led states, including Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Montana and others.

Kiba Walker in drag as Salem Moon addresses anti-drag protesters outside of Tulips, March 27, 2023.
andice Bolden/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images, FILE

Supporters of laws like the one in Texas believe drag shows are inappropriate for minors.

Lt. Gov. Patrick, in a May statement on the passage of the bill, added "I named SB 12 to be one of my top priorities this session because someone must push back against the radical left's disgusting drag performances which harm Texas children."

"We will not allow children to be sexualized nor preyed upon in Texas," tweeted state Sen. Bryan Hughes, a sponsor of the bill.

Named in the lawsuit are Interim Attorney General of Texas Angela Colmenero, Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon, Taylor County District Attorney James Hicks, Travis County Attorney Delia Garza, and Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez, who would be tasked with enforcing the restrictions.

In a statement, Garza told ABC News that she appreciates the ACLU's "efforts to bring some clarity to a law that has constitutional concerns and will be difficult to enforce."

She continued, "I continue to hope that in the name of true public safety, our state leaders will one day focus on actual public safety threats, like gun violence, instead of legislation like SB12 which will have little to no effect on the day to day operations of a community and its public safety needs."

ABC News did not immediately reach the other defendants named in the lawsuit.

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