Florida's law targeting drag shows on hold after federal judge's order

The judge ruled the law wouldn't be enforced until a trial determined its constitutionality.
Participants in a Pride parade in Florida
Posted at 10:40 PM, Jun 23, 2023

A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked a new Florida law targeting drag shows that was championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell granted a preliminary injunction stopping the law from being enforced until a trial is held to determine its constitutionality, and he denied a Florida licensing and regulatory agency's request to dismiss it.

The complaint was brought by the owner of a Hamburger Mary's restaurant and bar in Orlando, which regularly hosts drag shows, including family-friendly performances on Sundays where children were invited to attend. The restaurant owner said it violated First Amendment rights by chilling speech, was written vaguely and was overbroad.

An email seeking comment was sent to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which is the remaining defendant after the judge dismissed DeSantis and the state as defendants. Proponents of the legislation have said the law is meant to keep children from viewing sexually explicit performances and is constitutional.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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The ruling applies to the state's $38 billion Medicaid program, and affects the approximately 9,000 people who are transgender and enrolled in it.


The new law punished venues for allowing children into “adult live performances.” Though it did not mention drag shows specifically, the sponsor of the legislation said it was aimed at those performances.

Because of such statements “plaintiff’s fear of prosecution based on the Act’s alleged vague construction is not unfounded,” the judge wrote.

Venues that violated the new law faced fines and the prospect of their liquor licenses being suspended or revoked. Individuals could be charged with a misdemeanor crime. The Florida agency moved to revoke the liquor licenses of a Miami hotel and a performing arts center owned by the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation after they hosted drag shows where investigators claim minors were present.

The judge also noted that the law didn't define “live performance,” which could include anything from a burlesque show to “a skit at a backyard family barbecue," and it didn't include an exception for parents who were fine with their children seeing a drag show.

Ahead of announcing a run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination this spring, DeSantis made anti-LGBTQ+ legislation a large part of his agenda as governor. Other bills he signed would ban gender-affirming care for minors, and restrict discussion of personal pronouns in schools.