Governor Greg Abbott signed an extreme bill targeting drag performances on Sunday, making Texas the fourth Republican-led state to enact such a law.
The bill passed both the House and Senate in May, following last-minute changes that opponents worry will create a slew of new, unforeseen crimes when the measure goes into effect in September.
The new law will criminalize any performances that occur or could occur in front of a minor if they appeal to “prurient interest” or are of a sexual nature. Performers could be charged with a misdemeanor (and face up to one year in jail, a $4,000 fine, or both), while any business that hosts the show would face a $10,000 fine. The bill’s sponsor stripped out any specific references to drag, but opponents argue the vaguely worded legislation would still target LGBTQ people.
The text was amended during debates to remove specific mentions of the word “drag,” and just before the final vote, lawmakers also removed the definition of “premises,” raising concerns that drag performances in private homes could also be policed.
The law is extremely broad, which actually creates a host of other complications. A group of lawyers previously told The Dallas Morning News that the measure could restrict performances by artists such as Madonna and Miley Cyrus, which often feature sexual dancing. The text could even affect bachelorette parties, if they involved sex toys or other paraphernalia. The new changes could even impact cheerleading and criminalize sexual conduct between consenting 17-year-olds (17 is the age of consent in Texas).
Movie screenings and art history classes could similarly come under fire. And of course, the law will affect its original target: drag performers, Pride parades, and transgender people just trying to live their lives.
Some people say the measure was already singling out LGBTQ people before it was even signed. Kerry Lynn, who runs a business that sends drag queens to people’s homes for birthday or bachelorette party performances, said drag venues and performers have seen a spike in threats over the past year and have been targeted by neo-Nazis.
“Regardless of the content, the proposal of these bills have created an excruciating year for my business and drag performers,” Lynn said when the bill was heard in a House committee in late April. “These words in this bill create movements which become headlines that pave the way for those to feel justified in acting out hostilely and violently.”
Texas is now the fourth state to pass a law banning drag performances. Tennessee was the first, in March, followed a month later by Florida. A Tennessee bill was blocked before it could go into effect, on the grounds that it violated free speech. But LGBTQ groups in Florida are already canceling Pride celebrations in light of the new law. In May, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed a drag ban so broad it could prevent glam rock, wrestling, and even performances by Dolly Parton.