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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Brooke Baitinger

Florida wants to ban kid-friendly drag shows. But the shows will go on, LGBTQ+ groups say

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In the latest assault on the LGBTQ+ community, drag shows aimed at children could be banned in Florida, after a lawmaker and Gov. Ron DeSantis followed the lead of an idea in Texas.

After a Texas lawmaker proposed banning drag shows where children are present, Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, jumped on the bandwagon. He proposed banning drag shows aimed at children, charging parents who bring their child to drag shows and taking away their parental rights.

Shortly after that, Gov. Ron DeSantis indicated his support. During a news conference, the governor told reporters he asked his administration to look into whether a parent taking their child to a kid-friendly drag show would count as child endangerment.

His reasoning? “That is not something that children should be exposed to,” DeSantis said.

Videos from the Texas drag show that caught lawmakers’ attention show drag queens dressed in flashy dresses strutting down a catwalk alongside children who volunteered to participate and strike a pose with the queens.

DeSantis referenced a photo he saw of a girl putting a dollar bill in a dancer’s thong. None of the drag queens at the show danced burlesque or wore thongs while performing, and there’s no evidence the photo was taken at that show.

Sabatini targeted Pride on the Block in West Palm Beach, a popular yearly Pride event that offered a kid-friendly drag show that would promote themes of self-love and free expression. This year’s event was targeted by a mass shooting threat.

A teen living in Canada who had made anti-LGBTQ+ comments had threatened to shoot up the event. The drag show did not go on.

“Our main concern that day was making sure that we kept everybody safe, and that’s why we moved the youth section,” said Donna Weinberger, CEO of Inspire Recovery, who produced this year’s event. “With the anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando coming up this weekend, we understand how serious these continuous threats are to our community.”

Prominent LGBTQ+ advocacy groups released statements against the proposed ban, as well as the other anti-LGBTQ bills that have been signed in Florida and around the country. Earlier this year, DeSantis signed a law that would ban instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-3, and in higher grade levels if that instruction is deemed “not age appropriate” or not “developmentally appropriate” for students.

His administration also moved to ban gender-affirming health care for transgender and non-binary teens, and in 2020 DeSantis signed a law that banned transfeminine girls and women from competing on school sports teams.

“Real threats to children include gun violence in school and baseless legislation that bans lifesaving health care,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “One in four LGBTQ teens attempted suicide last year. Let’s focus on actual problems facing students, and hold lawmakers accountable to keeping all kids safe from real harm.”

Tatiana Williams, executive director of TransInclusive Group, questioned DeSantis’ position on parents having rights over their children, when he was looking into taking away those rights when it comes to LGBTQ+ love and acceptance.

“Drag is here, and it has always been here as a part of our community,” Williams said. “Banning drag shows out of a misguided fear that some youth might find a sense of connection with the LGBTQ+ community would be an invasion of parents’ rights to raise their children and support them as their authentic selves. When we think of educating our youth about the world, about acceptance, and about LGBTQ+ people and history, these efforts to erase our visibility are never the answer.”

This year, Pride on the Block also featured Drag Story Time to promote reading for the younger participants. Drag Queen Story Hour, an organization that celebrates reading through the glamorous art of drag, said they were disappointed politicians were threatening programs like theirs.

“Let’s be clear: [Drag Queen Story Hour] provides age-appropriate programming, and we routinely receive praise from parents and educators who are delighted that we offer children safe spaces to express themselves and support one another,” the statement said. “Any attempt to criminalize our work is rooted in tired homophobic and transphobic hate and misinformation, and we refuse to give in to politicians who are too bigoted and boring to comprehend our vision for a world in which every child can be safe fully expressing who they are.”

As part of its Pride programming, the Museum of Discovery and Science will host its fourth annual family Pride celebration on June 25. The daylong event for the entire family will have a rainbow science lab, exhibits, demonstrations, story time with a drag queen, and make-and-take-home sessions for Pride flags, prisms and tie-dyed T-shirts.

Joseph P. Cox, president and CEO of the museum in Fort Lauderdale, said the event would go on.

“The Museum of Discovery and Science welcomes individuals from all walks of life to visit, experience, connect and discover inspiring science. All are welcome here,” Cox wrote in a statement.

LGBTQ+ activists said that if exposing kids to overtly sexual atmospheres or performances is the problem, then the ban would need to extend to places like Hooters. To ban kids only from drag shows, and ones that are kid-friendly at that, is blatantly homophobic, they say.

Brian Levin, director at the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, agrees.

“Generally the government is prohibited from discriminating with regard to viewpoint,” he said.

He explained that permitted events like protests and parades can be restricted by time, place or manner. “But this appears to be something different,” he said. “This seems to be a pretextual deceptive attack on the right of the LGBTQ+ community and their supporters to be public and visible. It would violate the Constitution.”

Minors can be excluded from a variety of venues, such as bars, or R-rated movies without the supervision of an adult, he said.

“But that’s not the case here,” he said. “This seems to me to be an unconstitutional power grab against the very right of a community to express themselves. It’s not illegal to get dressed up in drag.

“It will be interesting to see what kind of deception is attempted to fit this illegal square peg into a round hole.”

In response to the mass shooting threat, Palm Beach County LGBTQ+ groups released a joint statement:

“We live in a free society. Our strengths as a people come from the collective backgrounds, beliefs and lives of our diverse communities. We understand that there is increased rhetoric focused on limiting the freedoms of our citizenry, including an attack on the rights of parents to raise their children in a manner that is best for their families. We will continue to host our events and will provide a safe space for all open-minded, accepting individuals to enjoy the diversity of these freedom loving communities everywhere.”

The statement was signed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Compass LGBTQ+ Community Center, the Pride Business Alliance, Transpire Help, and Pride on the Block.


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