A new Texan law limiting public drag performance has been ruled unconstitutional on speech, by a federal judge and permanently forbade enforcement of it.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner wrote in the 56 page ruling: “This is no different than a person’s opinion on certain comedy or genres of music, but that alone does not strip First Amendment protection. Not all people will like or condone certain performances.”
Hittner ruled that the Texas law was discriminatory and improperly vague. He found that Senate Bill 12 “impermissibly infringes on the First Amendment and chills free speech.”
The law, which Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed in June, expanded existing state law to prevent children from exposure to sexually explicit performances. Although SB 12 did not cite drag expressly, drag performers and their allies feared that it was passed with the intention of criminalising the art.
Hittner continued, “It is not unreasonable to read SB 12 and conclude that activities such as cheerleading, dancing, live theatre, and other common public occurrences could possibly become a civil or criminal violation.”
Hittner had previously temporarily blocked the law from taking effect on 1 September – where he noted the “chilling effect SB 12 will have on speech in general outweighs any hardship on the State of Texas.”
Texas was not alone in their desire to ban drag shows. More than a dozen states have sought to restrict drag shows over the last year. The first successful to do so being Tennessee followed by Montana, Alabama and Texas as part of a Republican crusade to regulate LGBTQIA+ people.
Positively, other federal judges in Tennessee, Florida and Montana have blocked similar new drag restrictions, finding similar free-speech violations.
Drag performers and Pride march organisers joined the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit in Houston’s federal court seeking to block the law.
The news has been met with triumph from the ACLU of Texas, who wrote on Twitter: “LGBTQIA+ Texans, venue owners, performers, and our allies all came together to uphold free expression in our state – and we won.”
VICTORY: A federal judge has declared Texas’ drag ban unconstitutional.
LGBTQIA+ Texans, venue owners, performers, and our allies all came together to uphold free expression in our state — and we won.
This work isn’t done but for now we celebrate. Long live Texas drag!
— ACLU of Texas (@ACLUTx) September 26, 2023
In a statement, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said: “We applaud and stand with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Baker Botts LLP and drag performers across the state in their hard work to ensure fairness and equality for all.”
Austin-based queen Brigitte Bandit, who addressed the Senate at Texas’s State Capitol and testified against the state’s anti-drag bills, reacted to the announcement, stating: “I am relieved and grateful for the court’s ruling.
“My livelihood and community has seen enough hatred and harm from our elected officials. This decision is a much needed reminder that queer Texans belong and we deserve to be heard by our lawmakers.”
Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, goes further to say: “Whether or not you like drag, shouldn’t decide what we’re allowed to watch or how we’re allowed to act.”