Texas may become the first state in America to officially ban sexually explicit performances in the presence of children as the bill snakes its way onto the desk of GOP Governor Greg Abbott. Advocates are convinced the legislation is directly targeting LGBTQ entertainers even without the mention of the name LGBTQ or Drag Queen mentioned in the bill.
Republican efforts in Texas to restrict children from watching certain drag shows finally got over the hump when the House and Senate agreed on a watered-down version of Senate Bill 12, a bill that could still ensnare LGBTQ performers and businesses into the court system where both can face criminal charges and a fine.
The businesses that hold such forbidden entertainment around children would also be held accountable along with the performers.
So this week, the Texas Legislature gave final approval to a bill that criminalizes performers that put on sexually explicit shows in front of children.
“We need to make sure that no child is subjected to sexually explicit performances, and I think this bill is a great start,” supporter Jonathan Covey told committee members.
Initially written as legislation to restrict minors from attending certain drag shows, lawmakers agreed on bill language that removed direct reference to drag performers just before an end-of-day deadline, according to Texas Tribune. The bill now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
Ban Sexually Explicit Performances
Under Senate Bill 12, business owners would face a $10,000 fine for hosting sexually explicit performances in which someone is nude or appeals to the “prurient interest in sex.” Performers caught violating the proposed restriction could be slapped with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Earlier this year, Ray Purser from the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce told lawmakers that bans on drag shows are bad for businesses.
“They host drag bingos,” Purser told KHOU TV in an interview following his testimony. “They host Sunday brunches, and it isn’t just LGBT establishments. These are mainstream establishments that are now beginning to see that this is a popular art form.”
Purser also told KHOU while his chamber is “encouraged” to see the language about drag performances removed from the bill, they are still evaluating its possible impact.
“My feeling is that the language is still vague, and there are already laws in place that protect children from these types of sexually oriented performances,” said Purser.
In Florida, according to Associated Press, Governor Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2024, earlier this month signed into law new restrictions on drag shows that would allow the state to revoke the food and beverage licenses of businesses that admit children to adult performances.
Battles Between LGBTQ Texans and GOP Party
Tensions between LGBTQ Texans and GOP officials flared in May when the debate over restricting gender-affirming care for trans kids spurred protests that led to altercations with state police. Children and young adults in particular were the focus of this year’s legislation. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made it a Senate priority to pass measures that limit school lessons about LGBTQ people, the college sports teams transgender students can join, and medical treatments that can be provided to transgender youth. Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to ban schools’ “woke agendas.”
LGBTQ activists and many Democratic lawmakers waged a monthslong fight against the bills. Many say the proposed measures amounted to attempts to minimize queer expression and restrict people’s rights.
According to a January report from the Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ youth suicide-prevention organization, 71% of LGBTQ youth said debates over bills affecting how they live negatively impact their mental health – and 86% of transgender youth reported negative mental health repercussions from such legislation.
“Texas has become one of the most dangerous and hostile places for transgender youth and transgender people and their families in America,” Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy adviser of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told reporters in February.
The clash came at a time when 72% of Texans support anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, according to a 2021 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute.
Red States Determined to Pass Legislation to Kill Drag Shows
As a part of a bigger battle over an emerging culture war issue, several states headed by Republicans have been poring over legislation that would limit or outright prohibit the performance of drag shows while minors are present. States like Arkansas, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and Tennessee have legislation pending to outlaw drag queen shows.
Advocates argue that the proposed regulations are discriminatory toward the LGBTQ population and could violate First Amendment legislation. Republicans argue that the performances expose children to sexual themes and imagery that are unsuitable for them. Advocates refute this assertion and say that the proposed measures are discriminatory.
Such shows, which frequently involve men dressing as women in exaggerated makeup while singing or entertaining a crowd, though some shows feature bawdier content, have occasionally been the target of attacks, and LGBTQ advocates say the bills under consideration add to a heightened state of alarm for the community.
According to a survey by CNN, there are bills being considered for passage via the legislative processes of at least eleven states across the United States, but none of them have been signed into law as of yet.
After Texas lawmakers from both chambers met in a conference committee to hash out the differences between their bill versions, the House and Senate released a new one that expanded the penal code’s definition of sexual conduct. The bill classifies as sexual conduct the use of “accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics,” accompanied by sexual gesticulations.
Advocates said this addition is aimed at drag queens’ props and costumes, which is evidence that lawmakers are still targeting the LGBTQ community.
Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, amended the legislation in the House by removing explicit reference to drag. Shaheen told The Texas Tribune that members had viewed videos of performances in which children were exposed to “lewd, disgusting, inappropriate stuff.” He said the updated bill addresses what was in those videos. Shaheen did not specify which videos concerned lawmakers.
Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, authored SB 12 after a small but loud group of activists and extremist groups fueled anti-drag panic by filming drag shows and posting the videos on social media. Those groups characterized all drag as inherently sexual regardless of the content or audience, which resonated with top GOP leaders in the state, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Advocates say the revisions to the legislation still target drag, even if those types of performances aren’t directly mentioned in the bill.
Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag performer, criticized the addition of “accessories or prosthetics” to the bill. Drag artists performing in front of children don’t wear sexually explicit costumes, Bandit said, adding that this bill creates a lot of confusion over what is and isn’t acceptable to do at drag shows.
“Is me wearing a padded bra going to be [considered] enhancing sexual features?” Bandit asked. “It’s still really vague but it’s still geared to try to target drag performance, which is what this bill has been trying to do this entire time, right?”
Shaheen said that including a direct reference to drag performers wasn’t necessary to the intent of the bill, which was to restrict children from seeing sexually explicit material.
“You want it to cover inappropriate drag shows, but you [also] want it to cover if a stripper starts doing stuff in front of a child,” Shaheen said.
Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, spoke against the bill Sunday just before the House gave it final approval in an 87-54 vote. She criticized the removal of language that previously narrowed the bill’s enforcement to only businesses. González warned that the bill’s vague language could lead to a “domino effect” of consequences.
“The broadness could negatively implicate even the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders,” said González. “It can go into your homes and say what is allowed in your homes after the lines ‘commercial enterprise’ were struck out.”
During a House hearing on SB 12, Democrats questioned whether the bill’s language would also ensnare restaurants like Twin Peaks that feature scantily clad servers. Shaheen said the way the bill is written exempts these types of performances.
LGBTQ lawmakers applauded the removal of the direct reference to drag performers. But advocates fear the phrase “prurient interest in sex” could be interpreted broadly since Texas law doesn’t have a clear definition of the term, said Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas who testified against the bill in a House committee.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the term is defined as “erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion,” though the language’s interpretation varies by community.
Nontheless, Texas may be the first state to actually ban sexually explicit performances in the presence of children.
Newsblaze Contributor Clarence Walker Can Be Reached At [email protected]