Judge Temporarily Halts Texas Bill That Would Restrict Drag Performances

A federal judge in Texas issued a temporary injunction blocking a bill that could effectively ban drag performances in the state just a day before it was scheduled to take effect.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner issued the temporary block on Thursday in response to a lawsuit filed against the state by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas on behalf of a drag performer, business owners and LGBTQ+ groups earlier this month.

Senate Bill 12 restricts “sexually oriented performances” on public property or in the presence of minors. The legislation, which was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in June and scheduled to take effect on Friday, also prohibits any performers from dancing suggestively or wearing prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics if minors are present.

“The Court finds there is a substantial likelihood that S.B. 12 as drafted violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution under one or more of the legal theories put forward by the Plaintiffs,” Hittner wrote in his opinion on Thursday.

The latest version of the bill no longer makes specific references to drag shows or people dressing in a way that is gender-nonconforming. But Abbott and other Republican leaders have indicated that the bill would target drag performances in public spaces.

Drag performers, LGBTQ+ people and business owners in Texas testified before Hittner as part of the lawsuit earlier this week and asked him to block the law, arguing that its language is too broad and violates their First Amendment rights.

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney for the ACLU, told reporters after the hearing that even with the omission of language that specifically references drag, the law still poses a threat to businesses and performers, The Texas Tribune reported. Under this law, business owners could be fined more than $10,000 for hosting performances that feature nudity or what might be considered a “prurient interest in sex.”

“Once we allow the government to start censoring and restricting certain types of shows simply because they’re unpopular or disfavored, that is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” Klosterboer said on Tuesday, according to the Tribune.

Plaintiff Brigitte Banditpointed out in her testimony that language prohibiting prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics would make it illegal for her to continue her performances as country singer Dolly Parton at various clubs and restaurants because she wears a breastplate for the act.

Another plaintiff said he fears some might interpret twerking — which is culturally significant in some Black cultures and is a central part of many performances — as an act that falls under the “prurient interest in sex” part of the law, which could then criminalize drag performers.

Hittner’s temporary injunction will prevent the law from taking effect as it was scheduled to on Friday, and the court will later issue a final decision about whether the law is permanently blocked.

Texas is one of six states to restrict drag performances, along with Montana, Tennessee, North Dakota, Florida and Arkansas, ABC News reports, although some of these policies have since been blocked.