Florida’s Faux Pas: Drag Ban Under Fire for Stifling Freedom of Expression and Targeting LGBTQ+ Community

In what can only be described as a strike against free speech and the LGBTQ+ community, a Florida-based restaurant, Hamburger Mary’s in Orlando, has filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis and the Sunshine State. This bold move follows the recent enactment of a ban against drag show performances – Senate Bill 1438, signed into law by DeSantis himself amid applause from an evangelical school audience.

The legislation now empowers the state to penalize venues for hosting performances supposedly depicting “nudity, sexual conduct or specific sexual activities,” even when these establishments allow minors. The law’s ambiguity raises alarm bells for critics, who argue that it could target venues hosting drag shows sans sexual content. The contentious legislation applies even if children are in the venue but not partaking in the performances.

Hamburger Mary’s, renowned for its family-friendly drag shows, argues that this law unfairly criminalizes its longstanding tradition. The restaurant owners, voicing their dissent on Facebook, view this as an assault on LGBTQ+ culture and its people.

“This bill is not about children. It’s a pretext for the persistent oppression of the LGBTQ+ community,” they asserted.

According to the owners, lawmakers are concocting an unfounded narrative portraying drag queens as child groomers. They further argued, “These lawmakers impose their own values and convictions as law. We’ve made too much progress to start reversing now!”

Their lawsuit posits that the legislation “prohibits protected speech based on the speaker’s identity,” unfairly attacking drag shows that have become a part of mainstream culture. The lawsuit, filed in federal court, claims a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Republican state Rep. Randy Fine, who voted for the bill, responded to the lawsuit, making groundless claims about the shows at Hamburger Mary’s, asserting that the law is crystal clear.

Meanwhile, patrons of the restaurant challenge such baseless allegations, testifying to the harmless and entertaining nature of the shows. One such patron described her fondness for the pageantry, camp, and fun involved in the performances, which she enjoys with her daughter.

To debunk false narratives, Hamburger Mary’s shared a YouTube video of one of its performances. Far from lewd or inappropriate, the drag artists danced and performed show tunes such as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins, “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray.

Hamburger Mary’s is seeking a temporary injunction against the law as their case unfolds in court. This would allow the restaurant, and other establishments in Florida, to continue with their drag shows – a clear indicator of the establishment’s resolve.

Unfortunately, drag bans are not limited to Florida and have infringed upon the rights of LGBTQ+ communities across the U.S. This has resulted in numerous Pride events being cancelled in June, including a parade in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and a large event in Arkansas. Even Houston’s only lesbian bar was denied insurance due to its hosting of drag events.

These bans clearly aim to suppress the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. As Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times eloquently put it, “This is the law working as intended: forcing queer people back into the closet.”

Alejandra Caraballo, a trans rights activist and civil rights attorney, concurred: “This is their goal, to erase LGBTQ+ people from public life.”