The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sued the Texas Attorney General and other defendants on Wednesday to prevent Senate Bill 12 from taking effect on September 1. It would ban drag performances in most public venues if permitted to move forward.
In the ACLU’s lawsuit, the group asserts that SB 12, which includes a ban on drag performances, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and threatens Texans’ livelihoods and free expression. For artists and those who support them, the ban targets any performance that could be construed as “sexual” and imposes criminal penalties, including a year in jail.
Many constitutionally protected performances could be censored by this law, such as touring Broadway plays and professional cheerleading routines or karaoke nights and drag shows, the ACLU said in a statement.
Among the plaintiffs represented by the organization are The Woodlands Pride, Abilene Pride Alliance, Extragrams, LLC, 360 Queen Entertainment LLC, and drag artist Brigitte Bandit.
Both LGBTQ+ nonprofits promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in their communities. Two drag production and entertainment companies that have already been impacted adversely by the ban and an Austin-based drag artist who performs, hosts, and produces drag shows, join the case to comprise the plaintiffs.
“The Texas Drag Ban is stunningly broad in scope and will chill entire genres of free expression in our state,” said ACLU of Texas attorney Brian Klosterboer. “This law flies in the face of the First Amendment. No performer should ever be thrown in jail because the government disfavors their speech, and we are asking the Court to block this affront to every Texan’s constitutional rights.”
“Texas queens and kings from across our great state have been targets of threats and misinformation as a result of the anti-drag law,” Bandit, the drag artist, said. “We must reject their attempts to divide us and continue to come together in our truth and power to support each other as Texans should. Our community will not be used as a scapegoat or a distraction by politicians who do not know who we are or what we do. State leaders should focus on legitimate issues, not political stunts. I dream of a state that’s better for us all, no matter who we are, how we live, or who we love. Long live Texas drag!”
President of fellow plaintiff organization, The Woodlands Pride, Jason Rocha, noted the importance of the lawsuit.
“Censoring drag is censoring free speech,” said Rocha said. “The Woodlands Pride was formed to help amplify the voices and representation of all, specifically the LGBTQIA+ community. Drag is a symbol of expression, and the freedom to express yourself is quintessential to human nature. We know this ban is aimed specifically at our community. Our freedoms to exist, express, and speak are at stake.”
“This legislation is yet another thinly veiled assault on the fundamental rights of LGBTQIA+ Texans,” said the president of Abilene Pride Alliance, Gavyn Hardegree. “The prohibition on drag performances is aimed at marginalizing and excluding the LGBTQIA+ community from the public sphere. The law’s severe language not only endangers drag performers as well as trans and nonbinary individuals, but also local establishments that embrace diversity, including cherished Abilene venues hosting theatrical shows, community brunches, and the vibrant art of drag.”
Under the law, it is illegal for drag queens to perform publicly if children can see them. The bill added to existing laws that restrict children’s access to sexual material, but in this case, went further by defining as sexually oriented material any production where “a male performer [is] exhibiting as a female, or a female performer exhibiting as a male, who uses clothing, makeup, or other similar physical markers and who sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience.”