AUSTIN, Texas — A group of drag performers and LGBTQ+ rights advocates have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block a new Texas law that expands what is considered an illegal public performance of sexual conduct, arguing it is meant to target drag shows and could also criminalize ballet and even cheerleading.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. district court in Houston by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of plaintiffs, contends that the law is unconstitutional and threatens the “livelihood and free expression of many Texans, including drag performers across our state.”
It seeks to block the from taking effect Sept. 1.
The law approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature was part of a broader effort in Texas and other conservative states to crack down on drag shows and limit LGBTQ rights.
Such laws have already run into trouble in other states, including Florida and Tennessee, where judges put drag performance bans on hold.
Like Texas, Arkansas has a new law regulating adult-oriented performance that doesn’t mention drag specifically but has raised concerns that it would be applied to drag performances. And Montana has a ban in effect that targets drag queen story hours, specifically.
The new Texas law on sexual content in performances was initially meant to bar children from attending drag shows. It was changed to remove specific references to drag performances, but it broadened the scope of what would be illegal.
It would ban real or simulated groping, real or simulated arousal, and the display of a sex toy if done in a “prurient” manner in front of a minor or on public property. And it includes a definition of sexual conduct that bars the wearing of accessories or prosthetics that enhance the female or male form in front of a minor or on public property.
Violators could face up to a year in jail, and businesses hosting performances deemed illegal could be fined $10,000 for each violation.
Drag performers say the law is intended to crack down on their art.
“Texas queens and kings from across our great state have been targets of threats and misinformation as a result of the anti-drag law,” said drag artist Brigitte Bandit of Austin, who is one of the plaintiffs. “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.”
Supporters of the bill say it’s needed to protect children from seeing sexually explicit content.
“Someone must fight back against the radical left’s degradation of our society and values. I will not allow Texas children to be sexualized and scarred for life by harmful drag performances,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, said when the bill passed in May.
The lawsuit argues that the new guidelines could ensnare all kinds of performances in addition to drag shows, including touring Broadway plays, professional cheerleading routines and karaoke nights at a local club.
Television, movies and websites could also fall under the guidelines, and “any type of wardrobe malfunction” could result in fines or jail, the lawsuit said.
“The Texas Drag Ban is stunningly broad in scope and will chill entire genres of free expression in our state,” said Brian Klosterboer, attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “This law flies in the face of the First Amendment. No performer should ever be thrown in jail because the government disfavors their speech.”