Could Florida turn showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show into a ballroom blitz of the worst kind?
Legislation aimed at limiting the attendance of minors at drag shows could mean venues would have to carefully police who sees live productions of Chicago and Hair. It even could impose restrictions on theaters that allow live reenactments to happen concurrently with screenings of Rocky Horror, a pastime for decades.
Florida Sen. Clay Yarborough, a Republican advancing a number of anti-LGBTQ bills this year, conceded in floor debate on Tuesday that if individuals perform content from Rocky Horror with children in attendance, a theater could lose its liquor license, and the individual staffers who let minors in, even if they attend with parents or sneak in with a fake ID, could be held criminally liable.
“It’s not that those shows cannot occur,” Yarborough said, “but if a child is admitted, then we have a problem under this bill.
Yarborough pushed back on suggestions the bill targets drag and queer content. During debate on the Senate floor, he repeatedly noted the legislation never uses the word drag, nor does it identify LGBTQ+ people.
But it does target businesses that allow minors to attend live performances that include nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, lewd conduct or lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts — criteria that critics of the legislation call vague.
In fact, it would be up to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to make the call what counts, and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has made clear that includes drag shows if the content is even remotely tawdry.
Florida state Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat, asked Yarborough during debate about several well-known shows with sexual content. And while Yarborough was adamant his bill only touched on live performance and not film, she noted many showings of Rocky Horror are accompanied by individuals acting act scenes on screen.
“That’s a movie, but sometimes it’s acted live at the same time,” she said. “It’s pretty aggressive. Some people would think it’s art. Some people would think it’s lewd. Who makes the decision?”
Yarborough did not seem aware that the show once started as a play. Regardless, he said whether that ran afoul of the law depended on live exhibitions.
The text of the bill describes content that is “without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” But when asked, he also said if Hair or Chicago productions included sexually suggestive performances, both would run afoul of the proposed legislation.
Florida state Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat, noted that existing pornography statues on the books already prohibit children from strip shows and extremely explicit materials when exhibited for profit. He also noted that those laws actually exempt situations where a parent brings a minor to a show, but Yarborough’s bill does not.
But Yarborough said there’s no reason the new bill going after businesses should adhere to the same regulations.