A temporary restraining order has been issued by a federal judge in Texas, blocking a new law that drag show performers fear will be used to shut them down or even result in their imprisonment. The law, which was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, aims to broaden the legal definition in the Texas criminal code of what constitutes an illegal public performance of sexual conduct in front of children. This legislation is part of a wider effort in conservative states, including Texas, to clamp down on drag shows and limit LGBTQ rights.
Critics of the law argue that its definition is so broad that it could potentially include the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. U.S. District Judge David Hittner, based in Houston, granted the temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit filed by drag performers and LGBTQ+ rights advocates. During a hearing earlier this week, these individuals argued that the new law not only posed a threat to their livelihoods but also violated their freedom of expression.
In his ruling, Hittner sided with the plaintiffs, agreeing that the law is likely to be unconstitutional as it infringes upon their First Amendment rights. The temporary restraining order will remain in place until the judge issues a more permanent order in the case. Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, expressed relief at the decision, stating that it provides a reprieve for LGBTQIA+ and transgender communities who have been targeted by the state legislature.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, responsible for representing the state in the lawsuit, did not respond immediately to a request for comment. Gavyn Hardegree, president of Abilene Pride Alliance and one of the plaintiffs, accused Governor Greg Abbott and his allies of employing scare tactics and bigotry to erase LGBTQIA+ identities. Hardegree emphasized the importance of retaining the freedom to express oneself without government censorship, regardless of race or gender.
Similar legal battles against drag performance bans have occurred in states such as Florida and Tennessee. In Tennessee, a new lawsuit was filed after a district attorney announced his intention to enforce the state’s law limiting drag shows, despite a federal judge previously ruling that the ban was unconstitutional.
The Texas law, which focuses on sexual content in performances, was initially presented as a measure to protect children from witnessing drag shows. Although Republican lawmakers made amendments to remove specific references to drag performances following criticism, concerns remain due to the law’s broader scope. The legislation defines sexual conduct to encompass sexual gestures involving accessories or prosthetics accentuating male or female sexual characteristics. It also criminalizes real or simulated groping, arousal, and the display of sex toys in a “prurient” manner in the presence of a minor or on public property.
Violators of the law could face up to a year in jail, while businesses hosting prohibited performances may be fined $10,000 for each violation. Other states such as Arkansas and Montana have implemented similar laws that have raised concerns about their potential application to drag shows and drag queen story hours, respectively.
Although the law’s sponsor claims that it does not intend to hinder theatrical or similar exhibitions, the lawsuit argues that its provisions could extend to various forms of entertainment, including television, movies, websites, touring Broadway plays, karaoke nights, and even restaurants with scantily clad servers.
The battle surrounding the Texas law and its potential impact on drag shows and LGBTQ rights continues, as the temporary restraining order provides some relief for performers and advocates while the case unfolds.