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DeSantis Aims to Revoke Liquor License for Hotel That Hosted Drag Show Last Year

The move comes as Republican lawmakers have introduced a slew of anti-drag bills across the country.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an event at the Orange County Choppers Road House & Museum on March 8, 2023, in Pinellas Park, Florida.

In Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) latest action targeting LGBTQ people in Florida, his administration has filed a complaint with a popular hotel in Miami, alleging that the establishment hosted an unlawful drag show.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed its complaint on Tuesday against Hyatt Regency Miami, seeking to have the hotel’s liquor license revoked over a holiday-themed drag show it hosted in December. The program, “A Drag Queen Christmas,” tours 36 cities across the country, and features performers from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

The DeSantis administration is alleging that children were present at the show, in violation of the state’s “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” laws. Tickets to the program — which suggest that it wasn’t a “public” event but a private one — originally stated that the show was for all ages. Advertising was later updated to say that minors in attendance had to be accompanied by an adult.

The department said in its complaint that it had previously warned Hyatt Regency Miami that it could lose its liquor license if it didn’t prohibit minors from seeing the show. “Sexually explicit content is not appropriate to display to children and doing so violates Florida law,” a spokesperson for DeSantis said.

The hotel’s liquor license remains valid for the time being.

DeSantis’s move was condemned by LGBTQ advocates in the state.

“How far will [DeSantis] take this anti-LGBTQ crusade in his desperate attempt to outrace his inevitable presidential primary opponents?” said Brandon Wolf, spokesperson for Equality Florida. “Will he raid movie theaters because parents take their teenagers to see R-rated movies? Will he punish electronics stores because parents buy their children certain video games?”

“How many businesses will DeSantis target, how many families will he force to co-parent with the government in his quest to manufacture right-wing hysteria that he can monetize and weaponize?” he continued.

The complaint itself is vague, stating that children “appearing” under the age of 16 were allowed at the event. Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School, noted in a series of tweets that the DeSantis officials “couldn’t even substantiate the allegations.”

“They are launching a case based on speculation that someone ‘appearing’ to be under the age of 16 was present,” Caraballo pointed out. “Even if they were, it’s not grounds for removing a liquor license. Drag is not lewd, nor is it a public nuisance as the state claims.”

“What’s next, banning Halloween & Masquerade parties if your costume doesn’t match your birth gender?” podcaster Lana Quest asked. “If DeSantis could pass a law that women couldn’t wear pants, he would.”

Republican lawmakers in state legislatures across the country have introduced a slew of anti-drag bills meant to restrict or ban such performances, efforts that First Amendment advocates say are blatant attempts to violate performers’ free speech rights.

LGBTQ advocates have warned that the introduction of such legislation is not just an attack on drag performers, but on the LGBTQ community as a whole — and could pose a particular danger to transgender people.

“Drag is a visual expression and creative celebration of LGBTQ+ culture,” said Jane Seu, legal and policy counsel for the ACLU of Nebraska.

Just last weekend, a group of right-wing protesters, including neo-Nazis and white supremacists, stormed a Drag Queen Story Hour event in Wadsworth, Ohio, spewing genocidal rhetoric and yelling racist, homophobic and transphobic slurs at people attending the event.

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