Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Florida Law Targeting Drag Performances

A federal judge in Florida has temporarily blocked the enforcement of a new state law that he said targeted drag performances.[0] The law, which was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on May 17, bans children from attending an “adult live performance” that depicts nudity, lewd conduct, or “lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.” 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.” Critics have said the law’s wording takes aim at drag shows, including a provision targeting shows featuring “lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

In his 24-page decision, Judge Gregory A. Presnell wrote that the law “is specifically designed to suppress the speech of drag queen performers.” He cited statements by Republican state Rep. Randy Fine, who sponsored the bill and said the law “will protect our children by ending the gateway propaganda to this evil — ‘Drag Queen Story Time.’” Presnell noted that Florida already has laws on the books that help restrict children from being exposed to lewd or obscene material, even with parental consent.[1]

Presnell wrote that the concern seemed insincere as Florida state law already allows minors to watch R-rated movies at a cinema if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian, regardless of the current statutory scheme.[2] “Such R-rated films routinely convey content at least as objectionable as that covered [by the new law].” He also argued that the law conflicted with a state law that guarantees the rights of parents to make decisions in the best interests of their children.[3]

The law’s “focus” on “‘prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts’ raises a host of other concerns not simply answered — what are the implications for cancer survivors with prosthetic genitals or breasts?[1] It is this vague language — dangerously susceptible to standardless, overbroad enforcement which could sweep up substantial protected speech…,” Presnell added. He also noted that the law’s vague language made it “susceptible to standardless, overbroad enforcement which could sweep up substantial protected speech.”

The ruling comes after a Utah-based drag group, Southern Utah Drag Stars, sued the city of St. George for denying them a permit to hold a drag show in a public park.[4] The group was given verbal permission to begin advertising for the event but was later denied a permit following complaints from residents who objected to the group’s “family-friendly” drag performance.[5] In his ruling, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer cited the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which ensures that all citizens, popular or not, majority or minority, conventional or unconventional, have access to public spaces for public expression.[6]

DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern responded to the ruling, saying, “Of course it’s constitutional to prevent the sexualization of children by limiting access to adult live performances. We strongly disagree with the judge’s opinion and are anticipating a successful outcome on appeal.[7] However, the judge’s ruling has been widely praised by LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and civil liberties organizations, who argue that the law was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

0. “Federal judge blocks Florida ‘drag show ban'” FOX 4 News Fort Myers WFTX, 24 Jun. 2023, https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/federal-judge-blocks-florida-drag-show-ban

1. “Federal judge blocks Florida’s controversial ‘drag show’ law” WLRN, 23 Jun. 2023, https://www.wlrn.org/florida-news/2023-06-23/federal-judge-blocks-floridas-controversial-drag-show-law

2. “Drag shows can shimmy on, Florida judge rules” Courthouse News Service, 24 Jun. 2023, https://www.courthousenews.com/drag-shows-can-shimmy-on-florida-judge-rules

3. “Federal judge bars enforcement of Florida’s drag show law” News 13 Orlando, 23 Jun. 2023, https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2023/06/23/federal-judge-bars-enforcement-of-florida-s-drag-show-law

4. “Drag Stars Win Event Permit in Bias Lawsuit Against Utah City” Bloomberg Law, 20 Jun. 2023, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/litigation/drag-stars-win-event-permit-in-bias-lawsuit-against-utah-city

5. “Drag Is Protected Speech, Federal Judge Rules” Reason, 22 Jun. 2023, https://reason.com/2023/06/22/drag-is-protected-speech-federal-judge-rules/

6. “Utah drag show must be given permit after St. George violated First Amendment, judge rules” UPI News, 18 Jun. 2023, https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2023/06/17/utah-drag-show-must-receive-permit-st-george-violated-first-amendment/1601687054651

7. “Florida’s Drag Ban Blocked by Judge in Hamburger Mary’s Case” Advocate.com, 23 Jun. 2023, https://www.advocate.com/law/florida-drag-ban-blocked

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