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A New Anti-Drag Bill Could Fine Texas Restaurants and Bars That Host Drag Events With Children Present

The latest in a series of anti-trans bills could result in fines and misdemeanor charges

A person in a gold and black printed outfit performing in front of a crowd with signs.
Cynthia Lee Fontaine performing at the All in for Equality Advocacy Day rally at the Texas Capitol on March 20.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A proposed anti-drag bill in the Texas Legislative session would impose fines on businesses — including restaurants and bars — that host drag events where children are present. Known as Senate Bill 12 (SB12), the bill is just one of several anti-drag bills currently working its way through the Texas Senate and House. Both SB12 and SB1601, which would withhold state funds from municipal libraries that host drag story times, are scheduled for public hearings at the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee on Thursday, March 23.

SB12 would issue fines to owners of Texas businesses (which include restaurants, bars, and event spaces, among others) who allow “sexually oriented performances” (which the state is defining to include drag shows) to take place when people younger than 18 years old are present or if it takes place on public property, as reported by Texas Tribune. The civil penalty would be $10,000 per infraction. Republican Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes and Lois Kolkhorst co-authored the bill.

The bill defines “sexually oriented performances” as “visual performances” where either the person is naked, a male performer is “exhibiting” as a female, or a female as male using “clothing, makeup, or other similar physical markers and who sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience,” and that the performance “appeals to the prurient interest in sex,” which is defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as “an erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion.” Basically, drag shows.

While the Tribune notes that this bill wouldn’t apply to venues that are only for people 21 and older, like most bars and nightclubs, there are still many family-friendly bars and restaurants that host drag events and shows, such as Little Darlin’ and Jester King Brewery.

Nonprofit Equality Texas has been tracking what it deems as “bad bills” in the legislative session, which includes 140 anti-LGBTQ ones. The organization is encouraging people to sign up to speak in opposition to SB12 and SB1601 during the March 23 hearing. The Austin LGBT Chamber is asking people to write to their representatives and urge them to vote against the bill. Several nonprofits — Equality, ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal, Texas Freedom Network, the Transgender Education Network of Texas, and Human Rights Campaign — held a rally, The All-in for Equality Advocacy Day. outside of the Texas Capitol on March 20 opposing the anti-LGBTQ bills.

A rally.
All in for Equality Advocacy Day rally at the Texas Capitol on March 20.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The current version of SB12 differs from the bill Sen. Hughes proposed in January. That bill, SB476, sought to reclassify businesses that host drag shows as “sexually oriented businesses,” which would group the businesses with those that host “live nude entertainment.” The bill was also intended to broadly define drag performances as where “a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment.” That would’ve technically included all sorts of theater/television/movie acting and the like. Organizations such as the Actors Equity Association have noted that the bills would essentially ban acting. It also grouped performers dressed up for reading stories to children. That bill was referred to the State Affairs committee on February 17 and hasn’t progressed since.

Sen. Hughes filed the reworded bill follow-up, which changed the definition of drag performances to include the supposed “sexual” angle after it was discovered that Texas Rep. Nate Schatzline (Forth Worth) — who proposed HB1266 — had worn a dress during a school play. Last year, Texas House Member Bryan Slaton vowed to file a bill banning children from drag shows in response to a viral video of a family-friendly drag Pride event in Dallas.

In late February, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill that would charge people who perform in drag in front of “a person who is not an adult” with a $2,500 fine, Class A misdemeanor, and up to one year of prison time. Additional violations would increase prison time.

And then in mid-March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is seeking to revoke Hyatt Regency Miami’s liquor license because it hosted a holiday drag show with children attendees at a venue affiliated with the hotel. The governor had sent undercover agents to the show and found nothing “offensive” about the event, and yet he is still seeking to get the license revoked.

If the bill does pass, it would take effect on September 1, 2023.

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