Senate passes drag show bill; it could derail pride parades, critics say

Published on April 12, 2023 at 1:03 pm

The Florida Senate has passed a bill — sponsored by a Jacksonville lawmaker — that blocks entertainment venues from admitting children to “adult live performances.”

The measure from Sen. Clay Yarborough (SB 1438) doesn’t specifically mention drag shows, but it defines “adult live performances” as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation that is performed in front of a live audience and in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, specific sexual activities, … lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

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The bill also would prohibit local governments from issuing public permits for events that could expose children to the targeted behavior. Critics said that could effectively shut down local pride parades.

Yarborough's bill has moved forward after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration took steps such as filing a complaint against the Hyatt Regency Miami hotel for hosting a “Drag Queen Christmas” event in December, alleging minors were allowed to see the show. The complaint seeks to have the hotel’s liquor license revoked.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 28-12 along party lines Tuesday to pass the bill, a day after Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, likened transgender men and women to “mutants,” “demons” and “imps” during debate on a separate proposal that would restrict which bathrooms people can use.

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Yarborough's bill — one of more than 400 pieces of legislation nationwide aimed at transgender people and the LGBTQ community — is among a number of proposals being considered during Florida’s 60-day legislative session, which is scheduled to end May 5.

The bill would allow state regulators to immediately suspend or revoke licenses of restaurants, bars and other venues that violate the law.

During debate Tuesday, Senate Democrats warned that arguments used to boost support for the restrictions could have dangerous consequences for trans people, who already are at risk for violence.

Drag shows and trans people are the “target du jour” of Republican-led legislatures across the country, Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said.

“The bill is, as usual, so purposefully vague as to create an administrative nightmare and seeks to chill all of those (drag) shows,” Polsky said. “This bill feeds into that kind of dangerous rhetoric, and it will lead to violence. Here is yet another example of big government going too far to take away our freedom. There’s no other way to describe it.”

Polsky and other Democrats pointed to Barnaby's comments Monday during a House committee discussion of a bill that seeks to prevent transgender men and women from using bathrooms that don’t align with their sex assigned at birth.

“We have people that live among us today on planet Earth that are happy to display themselves as if they were mutants from another planet,” said Barnaby, calling himself a “proud Christian conservative Republican.”

Barnaby spoke after trans men and women testified against the bill. Citing the Bible, Barnaby called them “demons and imps who come and parade before us and pretend that you are part of this world.”

Sen. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat who is gay, called Barnaby’s “demonization” of trans men and women “shameful” and railed against Republicans for failing to censure the remarks.

“That type of vitriol is coming because that is the type of climate that has been created in this country. That is the type of climate that we are creating in this state to where we are basically giving people a hall pass to say crazy things like that,” Jones said.

Pointing to the Bible, Jones, whose father is a pastor, urged Barnaby and other lawmakers to “give grace to people. And that does not mean grace to people you agree with. God-dog it, that means grace to even people you don’t agree with.”

Yarborough, who was the only Republican who participated in Tuesday’s Senate debate on the bill, said “the violence and the name calling … is not acceptable. And I condemn that. That is not a Christ-like response, and I’m totally proud and fine with saying that on the record.”

But, Yarborough argued, the bill is necessary to protect children, likening the proposed restrictions to covering electrical outlets to prevent kids from being physically harmed.

“We can’t unsee, we can’t unhear and we can’t un-experience the stuff that goes into our minds,” Yarborough said. “As lawmakers we have a responsibility to protect children from conduct that is patently offensive to prevailing standards in our communities.”

Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director of LGBTQ-advocacy group Equality Florida, told The News Service of Florida the bill “seeks to put the government in place” of parental decision-making about content children see.

The House State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee approved a similar bill (HB 1423) on Wednesday.

The Senate last week also passed a plan that would bar doctors and other health care providers from offering treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy to transgender minors.

Maurer said the measures targeting drag shows and LGBTQ people are politically motivated to help DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024, in a GOP primary against former President Donald Trump.

“It is about partisan politics. And the anti-drag bill is an illustration of this manufactured moral panic,” Maurer said.

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