LGBTQ+ Texans and advocates have filed a federal lawsuit to challenge a newly enacted Texas law, Senate Bill 12, that criminalizes certain drag shows and other performances in front of children. The law, which is set to take effect on September 1st, was originally intended to classify all drag shows as sexual performances but was significantly modified during the legislative session. The final version of the law now criminalizes performers who put on sexually explicit shows in front of children, as well as the businesses that host such shows.
The lawsuit is focused on the way the law defines sexually explicit behavior, arguing that it is excessively broad and gives too much discretion to law enforcement, prosecutors, and municipalities to determine what is illegal. The complaint, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, states that the law threatens the livelihood and free expression of many Texans by criminalizing and restricting constitutionally protected activities beyond the target of drag shows.
Under the new law, business owners who host sexually explicit performances where nudity or the “prurient interest in sex” is present may face a $10,000 fine. Performers found in violation of the law could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that Senate Bill 12 violates the First and 14th Amendments, as it discriminates against the content and viewpoints of performances and imposes prior restraint on free expression.
According to legal experts who have reviewed the bill, the language used could potentially criminalize behavior commonly seen at events ranging from Pride parades to bachelorette parties. Despite concerns raised by the plaintiffs and critics of the law, state Senator Bryan Hughes, the author of Senate Bill 12, maintains that the law is a common-sense measure to protect children from sexually explicit performances. The attorney general’s office, along with several co-authors of the legislation, did not provide any comments on the lawsuit.
One particular point of contention in the law is its classification of the use of “accessories or prosthetics” that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics, along with sexual gesticulations, as sexual conduct. Drag performer Brigitte Bandit, one of the plaintiffs, criticized this addition as vague and specifically targeting drag performances. Bandit expressed concerns about the potential inclusion of items like a padded bra, which could be seen as enhancing sexual features.
In addition to Brigitte Bandit, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit include The Woodlands Pride, Abilene PRIDE Alliance, Extragrams LLC, and 360 Queen Entertainment LLC. The lawsuit names several defendants, including the acting attorney general and various district attorneys and city officials. LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, such as GLAAD, Equality Texas, and the Transgender Education Network of Texas, have issued statements condemning the law, accusing it of unconstitutionally curtailing the lives of LGBTQ+ Texans.
The outcome of this lawsuit will have significant implications for the LGBTQ+ community in Texas and could potentially set a precedent regarding the restriction of performances and freedom of expression. The plaintiffs are determined to protect the rights of queer and trans individuals and are receiving support from various organizations throughout the legal process. The case will be closely watched as it unfolds.
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