Blog Inequality Law LGBTQ+

‘Unconstitutionally Vague’ Texas Drag Ban Challenged By ACLU

Drag queen story hour protest. Photo from Wikimedia Commons on October 24, 2022.

By Matt Keeley / AlterNet

The Texas drag ban is the subject of a new lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Texas on Wednesday. The ban is due to take effect next month.

Senate Bill 12 was passed by the state Senate and House on May 29, and signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott on June 18. The law bans “sexually oriented performances” on public property or in the presence of anyone under 18 years old. However, the bill’s definition of “sexually oriented performances” includes “the exhibition of sexual gesticulations using accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics.” Those who violate the law could be sentenced to a year in jail and fined as much as $10,000.

An earlier draft of the bill contained language directly referring to drag, including explicitly banning “state funding to municipal libraries that host drag story hours or otherwise host events where persons presenting as the opposite sex read books to children for entertainment,” according to KUT-FM.

Though the explicit anti-drag language was removed, the suit says the law “unconstitutionally singles out drag performances as a disfavored form of expression.”

“In its zeal to target drag, the Legislature also passed a bill so yawning in scope that it criminalizes and restricts an enormous swath of constitutionally protected activity, including theater, ballet, comedy, and even cheerleading,” the lawsuit reads.

Support our Independent Journalism — Donate Today!

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of two LGBTQ non-profit organizations, The Woodlands Pride, Inc. and Abilene Pride Alliance; two drag entertainment production companies, Extragrams, LLC and 360 Queen Entertainment LLC; and a drag queen, Brigitte Bandit. The suit names Interim Attorney General Angela Colmenero, as well as a number of local officials. Governor Abbott is not named.

The law is similar to other drag bans that have passed in other states, which have also faced similar legal challenges. However, critics say the Texas drag ban goes even further, potentially banning artwork depicting the nude form, according to the Austin American-Statesman. For example, Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, in which the titular goddess is depicted nude upon a clamshell, could hypothetically be challenged.

A federal judge ruled Tennessee’s drag ban violated the First Amendment, calling the ordinance “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.” In Florida, another federal judge blocked a similar law, saying it would likely run counter to the right to freedom of speech.

Travis County Attorney Delia Garza, one of the named defendants, told KUT-FM she appreciated the lawsuit, and hopes it will “bring some clarity to a law that has constitutional concerns.”

“I continue to hope that in the name of true public safety, our state leaders will one day focus on actual public safety threats, like gun violence, instead of legislation like SB12 which will have little to no effect on the day to day operations of a community and its public safety needs,” Garza continued.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required

Matt Keeley

Matt Keeley is a regular writer for Alternet.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments