Florida Senate bill seeks to ban drag shows for minors

Drag Queen Story Hour with Brittany Lyn & Crew

Vague bill wording brings confusion and concerns

Florida Republicans are aiming to pass a bill that would ban businesses and individuals from allowing children under the age of 18 to attend drag shows. If enacted into law, violators could receive criminal penalties. 

Titled “Protection of Children”, Senate bill 1438 (SB1438) would authorize the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to penalize businesses and individuals who admit minors into any “adult live performance.” 

An individual who breaks this law, as stated in the bill, would face a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison. The establishment hosting the performance could also potentially lose its liquor license, and the DBPR’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants could impose a fine of $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for each violation following. 

The bill defines an adult live performance as, “any show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience which, in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities as those terms are defined in s. 847.001, lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts when it… predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest.”

This definition has Democratic lawmakers and critics concerned on what performances qualify and who gets to make the determination. Jacksonville Republican Sen. Clay Yarborough, the bill’s sponsor, answered some of these questions from Democratic colleagues. 

“I don’t understand who makes the decision on what’s considered lewd,” Sen. Tina Polsky said addressing Yarborough. “I don’t know if you’ve seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show — that’s a movie, but sometimes it’s acted live. It’s pretty aggressive. Some people would think it’s art, some people would think it’s lewd. Who makes the decision?” 

Yarborough answered Polsky’s question with a vague response similar to the bill’s wording. He said, if that movie was portrayed as a live performance, and a complaint was brought into DBPR, an investigation would be conducted. 

Polsky, attempting to further clarify the bill, proposed another hypothetical question to Yarborough. She asked, if the popular Broadway show Hair was brought to Florida, and it contained nudity, would a 17 year-old be allowed to attend and would identification be checked at the door. Yarborough’s response remained unclear. 

He said, “If it is an adult live performance, which is any show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience, and has any of these descriptors, Senator Polsky, then it would apply, regardless of what that show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of the live audience is.”

The ambiguous nature of SB1438 and its definition of “adult live performance” not only poses questions about what type of art and shows minors can be exposed to, but also threatens how acquainted children can be in celebrating LGBTQ Pride. If passed, Florida’s LGBTQ community worries Pride parades could be in jeopardy. 

A few weeks ago, Lake Worth Beach hosted its annual Palm Beach Pride festival. Lake Worth Beach Vice Mayor Christopher McVoy, who takes issue with SB1438, fears this celebration, and future festivals like it, could be impacted if the bill passes. 

“I was at the Pride Festival at Bryant Park both days. I suspect that there’s a fair chance that I would be charged under this thing because I, after checking for approval from Compass, chose to join the parade in drag,” McVoy told WPTV. “Now, I don’t know that I would consider I had anything particularly lewd, but it says if I have ‘lewd exposure of breasts’ for instance, or, well, I stuffed some paper towels in my shirt. Is that lewd? Were they exposed? I don’t know. It was a pretty nice gown.”

McVoy told WPTV that SB1438 could potentially keep local governments from providing permits for Pride festivals, out of the fear that they would be violating the bill’s terms. 

“This, to me, is another case of the state Legislature preempting home rule and telling communities that you can’t choose what you want to be as a community,” McVoy told WPTV.