Jun 23, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Federal judge temporarily blocks Florida law restricting drag shows

A drag performer makes a peace sign from a float in a parade

Drag queens ride on a float during the Stonewall Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Fla. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge blocked enforcement of a Florida law cracking down on drag shows, writing in an order issued Friday that the rule is vague and contradicts the state's commitment to parental rights.

What's happening: U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell issued the preliminary injunction in response to a request from the Orlando location of Hamburger Mary's, a drag-themed restaurant that sued the state over the law in May.

  • The law "is specifically designed to suppress the speech of drag queen performers," Presnell wrote.

Zoom in: In their request for an injunction, Hamburger Mary's attorneys said the restaurant lost customers after barring children from drag shows to comply with the law.

  • The harm to the restaurant, Presnell ruled, outweighs the imagined harm that could result from blocking the law as the challenge moves through the legal system.

Why it matters: The law was part of a sweeping slate of legislation restricting health care and public expression for LGBTQ+ Floridians that came out of this year's legislative session.

  • Presnell's order is also part of a recent string of legal victories for LGBTQ+ people across the country.
  • In the last two weeks, courts in Florida, Arkansas and Indiana have blocked restrictions to transgender health care.

The other side: A spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis told Axios that his office believes the judge's ruling is "dead wrong" and that the state plans to appeal.

  • DeSantis has previously said that drag shows "sexualize" children and sought last year to penalize two venues that admitted children to drag performances.
  • However, state agents who attended one of the shows DeSantis criticized reported no lewd activity, according to the Miami Herald.

State of play: The law bans children from attending an "adult live performance" that depicts nudity, lewd conduct, or "lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts."

  • Despite widespread opposition, including a protest at the Capitol that drew hundreds of drag artists, the bill passed the legislature in April and was signed by DeSantis in May.

Between the lines: Florida already has laws on the books that penalize exposing children to obscene material, the judge wrote.

  • Along with the redundancy, the law's vague language makes it "susceptible to standardless, overbroad enforcement which could sweep up substantial protected speech," Presnell said.
  • The policy also doesn't include a carveout to allow a child to attend a banned performance with a parent. That clashes with Florida's Parents' Bill of Rights, Presnell wrote.

Flashback: As the law moved through the legislature, some supporters argued that it wasn't targeting drag shows but rather a narrow set of what the bill called "adult live performances" that weren't age-appropriate.

Reality check: Presnell cited the words of House bill sponsor Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) to establish that the law targets drag shows.

  • After filing the bill in March, Fine wrote on Facebook that it "will protect our children by ending the gateway propaganda to this evil — ‘Drag Queen Story Time.'"
  • In a statement to Axios, Fine accused the judge of taking the "social media comments out of context to support his intellectually dishonest argument."
  • "I am confident that as the case moves to more competent jurists, they will uphold the law," Fine added.
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