Metro Weekly

Texas Wants to Label Venues Hosting Drag Shows as “Sexually Oriented”

Venues would likely cancel or ban all future drag performances to avoid being regulated as a "sexually oriented business."

drag, performer,
Photo: Effatum, via Dreamstime.

Texas lawmakers have filed at least four separate bills aimed at making it illegal for a bar or restaurant to host a drag show unless the venue is classified as a “sexually oriented business.”

State Reps. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco), Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) and Nate Schatzline (R-Fort Worth), and Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) have all introduced bills aimed at preventing children from being exposed to drag-related events, focusing on so-called “all-ages” shows that have rankled social conservatives, especially those that see gender-nonconformity as inherently “sexual.”

The proposed bills would amend state law to define any venue that hosts a drag performance as a “sexually oriented business,” similar to a strip club, sex parlor, adult bookstore, adult movie theater, or other businesses that provide nude entertainment.

Defining venues that host drag events as “sexually oriented” would have a significant impact on zoning, since such businesses cannot operate within 1,000 feet of libraries, museums, schools, or other establishments that might attract children. It would also carry tax implications, since Texas requires “sexually oriented” businesses to pay the state $5 for every customer they admit

Due to the complications that would likely arise from embracing such a designation, the proposed law is more likely to have the desired effect of serving as an unofficial ban on drag in the state, as most restaurants and bars that once hosted drag-themed events will now eschew such events.

“If you want to be a sexually oriented business, that’s fine, but you need to play by the same rules as everyone else does,” Patterson told Austin-based ABC affiliate KVUE when asked about the rationale for hisbill.

“We’re trying to tailor a bill to say that the sexually suggestive drag shows where grown men wear women’s underwear and seek children to stuff dollar bills into their underwear,” he said, referring to a viral video of an all-ages drag event held at a Texas bar over the summer. That video led right-wing groups across the country to protest outside venues hosting drag shows, attempt to disrupt such events, or even firebomb LGBTQ-friendly venues, based on the belief that drag performances are a form of “indoctrination” or the false assertion that they promote pedophilia. 

“We don’t want that to occur in the state of Texas,” added Patterson.

Although Patterson admits his bill is overly broad in terms of its scope and the language needs to be tightened, he says he is trying to ensure that children are not exposed to age-inappropriate material at drag shows.

“I don’t want a big, heavy-handed government coming down, but I think that we need to protect the innocence of our children,” he said.

But opponents of the bill say that not all drag shows are sexual in nature, and that many performers often “dial back” some aspects of their shows if they are going to be performing in public or for a wider audience beyond regular bar patrons. 

“For [drag] to be classified as a whole as a sexually oriented art is just wrong,” Kerry Lynn, the owner of Extragrams, a drag entertainment business, told KVUE. “It’s just absolutely wrong. Any time we know that there are going to be children present or there’s going to be a younger audience, we always make sure to curate it so that it’s appropriate.”

Lynn notes that as outrage over drag has become a political issue, and as more lawmakers continue to push bills aimed at restricting or outlawing drag performances, drag performers have received threats and have had to cancel bookings or shows out of concern for their personal safety.

“It’s shocking to see that our representatives are choosing to wage a war on artists,” she said. “They’re choosing to wage a war on performers who just want to exist and be fabulous and entertain and bring joy.”

Classifying drag shows as “sexually oriented” would likely result in an unofficial across-the-board ban in cities like Corpus Christi, where police say that the city no longer issues licenses for sexually oriented businesses, and all existing businesses have been “grandfathered in,” according to ABC affiliate KIII-TV.  

Brittany Andrews, the owner and operator of Brittany’s Diva Brunch, in Corpus Christi, says she believes the bills likening drag to peep shows and nude entertainment venues are unfair.

“I don’t understand why I should be terrorized or legislated out of a 30 year career,” she told KIII.

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