Texas Gov. Abbott signed the controversial Senate Bill 12 (SB12) into law on Sunday, June 18. The Texas bill goes into effect September 1, 2023, and penalties can include up to a $10,000 fine per violation for businesses. Performers and participants could also face misdemeanor penalties.
While the bill removed its previous explicit mentions of drag performances, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement the law still specifically targets drag shows, saying, “I will not allow Texas children to be sexualized and scarred for life by harmful drag performances.”
The final version of SB12 that passed includes changes from prior versions, broadening the reach — and perhaps overreach — of the law. First, the definition of “sexual conduct” that would violate the law was expanded to include “sexual gesticulations using accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics.” As “sexual gesticulations” aren’t defined, this could mean simply wearing stuffed or padded bras or wearing prosthetic breasts similar to ones commonly used as props in other theatrical performances. While drag performances aren’t specifically cited, drag performers feel targeted by the bill’s language.
Second, lawmakers removed language that specified where performances must occur to violate the law, leaving some to wonder if drag shows during parties at private homes would be policed. The Texas District and County Attorneys Association also noted in a tweet that, while the age of consent in the state is 17, limiting event attendance to anyone 18 or older essentially redefines who is a minor in the state and could potentially criminalize consenting sexual conduct between 17-year-olds. “That’s not going to work,” the organization wrote.
And the age of consent in TX is 17, not 18, so to the extent this version of #SB12 criminalizes (for example) pre-coital sexual conduct in private between consenting adults when one or both are 17, that's ... that's not going to work. pic.twitter.com/4S3Jyewuro— TDCAA (@TDCAA) May 28, 2023
The bill was introduced by Texas Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst. As noted by the Texas Tribune, former state Rep. Bryan Slaton (who was found to have engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with a 19-year-old aide after giving her alcohol) prominently vowed to ban minors from attending drag shows after a video of a family-friendly drag show went viral in June 2022. A similar and also vague bill passed in Tennessee in February. Likewise, presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken aim at businesses hosting drag shows by threatening their liquor licenses.
Abbott signed the bill on the very last day he was able to do so during this legislative session. The quiet passage of the law comes as a particular blow to the LGBTQ community in Texas, which is currently celebrating Pride month, with Austin’s to come in August.