Judge Blocks Law Impacting Drag Shows, Citing Free Expression Concerns

In a recent turn of events, U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston has issued a temporary restraining order blocking a Texas law that critics argued could have far-reaching consequences for drag show performances. 

The law, backed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, aimed to redefine what constitutes an illegal public performance of lewd conduct involving children. However, opponents expressed concerns that the law’s broad language could inadvertently target drag performances.

While the law, originally slated to take effect on Friday, was not overtly focused on drag performances, it triggered concerns among drag performers and LGBTQ+ advocates who believed it might serve as a tool to curtail their expressions. 

The law introduced a definition of inappropriate conduct that encompassed a range of actions, including sensual gestures employing accessories or prosthetics that accentuate male or female sensual traits. 

It also criminalized actions like real or simulated groping, arousal, and the display of adult toys, particularly if performed in a suggestive manner in front of minors or on public property where children could potentially be exposed to the performance.

Individuals found in violation of the law could face up to a year in jail, while businesses hosting such performances could be fined up to $10,000 for each occurrence. 

Critics raised alarm that the law’s vague phrasing could lead to unintended consequences, possibly even affecting events like the performances of the renowned Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

Due to those concerns, a group of drag performers and LGBTQ+ rights advocates contested the law’s implementation, asserting that it jeopardized their livelihoods and infringed on their constitutionally protected freedom of expression. 

The legal challenge found support from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which represented the plaintiffs in the case. 

In his decision, Hittner sided with the plaintiffs, agreeing that the new law encroached upon their First Amendment rights. 

After the ruling, the ACLU of Texas hailed the judge’s order as a “much-needed reprieve” for Texans and the LGBTQIA+ community “who have been relentlessly targeted by our state legislature.” 

“If allowed to take effect, SB 12 will make our state less free, less fair, and less welcoming for every artist and performer,” the organization’s attorney stated further.

However, the Texas Attorney General’s Office, responsible for representing the state in the lawsuit, stood by the law’s intentions, asserting its purpose was to safeguard children and uphold standards of public decency. 

Citing instances of “obscene” drag performances being marketed towards families with children, the Attorney General’s Office expressed a determination to defend the law through all available legal means.

While this temporary restraining order halts the law’s immediate enforcement, Hittner is to deliberate and ultimately decide on a more permanent resolution for the case in the next 14 days. If a permanent order is issued in the future, the state would most likely be appealing the ruling.