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Florida Restaurant Sues DeSantis Alleging Drag Ban Violates Free Speech Rights

The law has “everything to do with the continued oppression of the LGBTQ+ community,” the owners said.

Drag Queen Kat Wilderness performs for guests during a Drag Brunch in Miami, Florida, on April 9, 2022.

A Florida restaurant is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the state of Florida over a newly enacted ban on drag show performances.

Senate Bill 1438, which DeSantis signed into law last week in front of a crowd outside an evangelical school, allows the state to punish establishments that showcase performances purportedly simulating “nudity, sexual conduct or specific sexual activities,” if the venues permit entry to minors. Critics say the vagueness of the law would let Florida punish places that host drag shows without sexual content, and that it applies even if children are in the establishment but not attending the performances.

Hamburger Mary’s in Orlando is suing the state over the law, alleging its family-friendly drag shows that it’s held in the restaurant for years would unduly be in violation of it. The owners of the restaurant, in a posting on Facebook, called the ban an attack on LGBTQ culture and people.

“This bill has nothing to do with children, and everything to do with the continued oppression of the LGBTQ+ community,” they said.

Lawmakers are “creating a false narrative that drag queens are grooming and recruiting your children with no factual basis or history to back up these accusations AT ALL,” the owners stated:

They are setting a precedent that the state legislaters [sic] can decide what is best for you based on THEIR own values and convictions, and write it into law. We’ve spent too many years moving forward. We can’t go back!

The lawsuit says that the law “prohibits protected speech based on the identity of the speaker,” wrongly targeting drag shows that have become “part of mainstream culture” and are now, in many cases, a “form of family entertainment, enjoyed by all.” The suit has been filed in federal court, as the plaintiffs allege their First Amendment speech rights are being violated.

At least one Republican state lawmaker who voted for the bill has responded to the lawsuit, making unfounded claims about the shows at Hamburger Mary’s.

“[The law is] not unclear at all,” said state Rep. Randy Fine (R). “What’s clear is you have a business in Orlando saying they will go out of business if they cannot do sex shows for children.”

In contrast to lawmakers who ignorantly say drag art is inherently sexual or somehow dangerous for children, actual patrons of the restaurant said that the shows are not either.

“I love the pageantry. I love the camp. I love the silliness of it. My daughter is the same way. It’s fun. It’s a really good time,” said one patron, who spoke to WESH, the NBC affiliate station in Orlando.

“There’s nothing inappropriate” about the show, that person added.

Indeed, in another Facebook post, the restaurant shared a YouTube video of one of its performances, which did not include overtly lewd or sexual behavior. Instead, performances by actors dressed in drag danced and mimicked a variety of show tunes, including “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins, “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray.

“No nudity, no language, no grooming,” the owners wrote in the post.

Within its lawsuit, the restaurant is also asking for a temporary injunction on the law while the case is litigated in the courts, which would allow Hamburger Mary’s, as well as other establishments in the state, to carry on with both established and new drag show performances in Florida.

Drag bans across the U.S. have attacked speech rights of LGBTQ communities, leading to the cancellation of many events scheduled for June, which is Pride Month. A Pride parade in Port St. Lucie, Florida, has been canceled, for example, as has a Pride event that was set to happen in Arkansas’s largest performing arts center. Insurance for the only lesbian bar in Houston, Texas, has also been denied to that establishment on the basis of its hosting of drag events.

Observers have noted that bans on drag show performances serve one purpose: to suppress the rights of the LGBTQ community.

“This is the law working as intended: forcing queer people back into the closet,” New York Times columnist Lydia Polgreen wrote earlier this month.

“This is the goal, they want to eliminate LGBTQ people from public life,” said Alejandra Caraballo, a trans rights activist and civil rights attorney.

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