Home » Featured » What’s happening with drag-show laws

By Free Speech Center staff, published on October 17, 2023

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Two drag performers, who go by Polly Pocket, left, and Baby Girl, read from the children's book "Unicorns Are the Worst!" at a rally to protest a bill that would criminalize exposing anyone 18 or younger to a drag show., Friday, March 24, 2023 in Lincoln, Neb. The performers regularly read to children at a drag story hour at Urban Abbey, a progressive church, bookstore and coffee shop in Omaha. Last Saturday, the story hour event was interrupted by bomb and death threats emailed to the church, its pastor and several staff members. (AP Photo/Margery Beck)

Drag shows are a form of entertainment in which female impersonators dress in elaborate costumes and makeup and perform singing or dancing. Some drag shows include comedy, skits and interaction with the audience. Drag shows have been depicted and popularized in several television shows and films, such as “Ru-Paul’s Drag Race” and the movie “The Birdcage.”

Beginning in 2022, legislators in several states introduced bills to restrict, in a host of ways, entertainment and performances by female (and male) impersonators. The so-called “drag show laws” have raised First Amendment questions. Live entertainment is protected under the First Amendment as a form of free expression. But sponsors of the bills contend the performances are obscene or not appropriate for children.

The bills set off a series of legal battles. Here are some recent stories about the status of the laws:

Supreme Court won’t allow Florida to enforce its new law targeting drag shows during appeal

The Supreme Court said Nov. 16 it would not allow Florida to enforce its new law targeting drag shows for children while a court case proceeds. The justices refused to narrow a lower-court order that has prohibited the law from being enforced statewide. Florida had asked the court to allow its anti-drag show law to be enforced everywhere except at Hamburger Mary’s restaurant in Orlando, which challenged the law’s constitutionality.

Judge temporarily blocks Tenn. city from enforcing ban on drag performances on public property (Published Oct. 23, 2023) A U.S. district judge issued an order that bars Murfreesboro from enforcing the ordinance during the BoroPride Festival scheduled for the upcoming weekend.

Montana judge keeps in place a ban on enforcement of law restricting drag shows, drag reading events (Published Oct. 13, 2023) A federal judge in Montana is continuing to block enforcement of a law that puts restrictions on drag shows and bans drag reading events in public schools and libraries, saying Friday that the law targets free speech and expression and that the text of the law and its legislative history “evince anti-LGBTQ+ animus.”

ACLU sues Tennessee city over anti-drag ordinance (Published Oct. 6, 2023) The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee on Friday filed a federal lawsuit against a Tennessee city that passed an ordinance designed to ban drag performances from taking place on public property.

Federal judge rules Texas university that canceled drag show didn’t violate free speech (Published Sept. 25, 2023) A federal judge has ruled that a university in the Texas Panhandle did not violate the constitutional right to free speech when the school’s president canceled a drag show earlier this year.

Florida agency appeals ruling blocking anti-drag show law (Published June 29, 2023) Days after a federal judge temporarily blocked a new Florida law targeting drag shows, the state has appealed that decision. The Florida agency that regulates businesses asked the judge who ruled against it last week to allow the law’s enforcement while its appeal is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Utah city violated First Amendment in denying drag-show permit, federal judge rules (Published June 21, 2023) The city of St. George must issue a permit for a Utah-based group that organizes drag performances to host an all-ages drag show in a public park, a federal judge ruled, calling the city’s attempt to stop the show unconstitutional discrimination.

Judge rejects Tenn. anti-drag law as too broad, too vague (Published June 5, 2023)

Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation law designed to place strict limits on drag shows is unconstitutional, a federal judge says. The law is both “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” and encouraged “discriminatory enforcement,” according to the ruling.

Alabama bill would put limits on drag shows (Published April 28, 2023) Alabama has joined states trying to limit drag shows after legislation was filed Thursday that would prohibit the performances in public places where children are present.

As Tennessee, others target drag shows, many wonder: Why? (Published March 2, 2023) Across the country, conservative activists and politicians complain that drag contributes to the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children. Several states are considering restrictions, but none has acted as fast as Tennessee. The efforts seek to extinguish popular “ drag story hours ” at which queens read to kids. Organizers of LGBTQ Pride events say they put a chill on their parades. And advocates note that the bills, pushed largely by Republicans, burden businesses in an un-Republican fashion.

Bill limiting drag shows in Kentucky sparks chants of ‘shame’ from foes (Published March 2, 2023) Republican lawmakers on Thursday advanced a bill aimed at putting limits on drag shows in Kentucky, sparking chants of “shame” from opponents who decried the measure as discriminatory and said it would stifle First Amendment rights.

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