Freedom of Expression

Florida Law Targeting Drag Shows Can’t Be Enforced For Now, Appellate Court Says

Supporters of the drag community protest against Florida's 'Protection of Children' bill which would ban children at live adult performances, at the state capitol in Tallahassee, Florida
Supporters of the drag community protest against Florida’s ‘Protection of Children’ bill which would ban children at live adult performances, at the state capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, April 25, 2023. (Reuters/Octavio Jones)

By The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A ruling prohibiting the enforcement of a new Florida law targeting drag shows will stay in place for the time being, according to a federal appeals court decision.

A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s granting of a preliminary injunction stopping the law from being enforced until a trial is held in Orlando, Florida to determine its constitutionality.

In their appeal, attorneys for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation had asked that the injunction only apply to the business that had challenged the law, saying that the judge’s injunction “sweeps beyond Plaintiff to nonparties who may wish to expose children to live obscene performances in violation of the statute.”

But a majority on the appeals court panel ruled against that request, saying the Florida agency hadn’t shown that the lower court had erred by prohibiting the law’s enforcement.

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

The new law championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, 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.

Venues that violated the law faced fines and the possibility for their liquor licenses to be suspended or revoked. Individuals could be charged with a misdemeanor crime.