Bridgitte Bandit (photo via Instagram)

A federal judge in the Southern District of Texas today (Thursday Aug. 31) granted a temporary restraining order blocking SB 12, the “drag ban law,” from taking effect tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 1) while the court deliberates on a permanent injunction.

SB 12 bans any performance that could be perceived as “sexual” when a minor is present and on public property, and the law proposes criminal penalties, including up to a year in jail, for artists, business owners and others accused of violating it.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Baker Botts LLP filed the lawsuit earlier this month on behalf of plaintiffs The Woodlands Pride, Abilene Pride Alliance, Extragrams LLC, 360 Queen Entertainment LLC and drag performer Brigitte Bandit.

The Woodlands Pride lawsuit is one of two lawsuits filed so far challenging SB 12. Texas Civil Rights Project has filed suit on behalf of a theater company called VORTEX Repertory Company, several Texas LGBT Chambers of Commerce — including the North Texas LGBTQ Chamber — and individual performers.

In the Woodlands Pride suit, the ACLU of Texas and Baker Botts LLP argued that SB 12 is unconstitutional and that it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it’s written in a way that would have allowed a large number of constitutionally protected performances, from touring Broadway plays and professional cheerleading routines to karaoke nights and drag shows, to be censored.

Plaintiffs testified in court that SB 12 threatens their livelihoods, censors their freedom of expression and vilifies an artform that has roots going back millennia.

“Drag has always been a form of free expression,” said drag performer plaintiff and Brigitte Bandit. “We use our performances to assert liberation, power and joy with our community. As a lifelong Texan, I’m sick of this state trying to censor art and stoke hatred and violence against drag artists and the LGBTQIA+ community.

“No one should be punished for performing drag, and I wish lawmakers would take steps to protect kids from real dangers in our state instead of trying to divide and marginalize us,” Bandit added.

Brian Klosterboer, attorney with ACLU of Texas, said today, “This law was obviously unconstitutional from the day it was first proposed, and we are grateful that the court has temporarily blocked it. Senate Bill 12 is vague, overbroad and censors free expression.

“If allowed to take effect, SB 12 will make our state less free, less fair, and less welcoming for every artist and performer. This temporary order is a much-needed reprieve for all Texans, especially our LGBTQIA+ and transgender community, who have been relentlessly targeted by our state legislature,” Klosterboer said.

Richard Montez, co-owner of 360 Queen Entertainment, said, “Our company had a performance last weekend that we imagined might be our final show, but the court’s ruling gives us hope that we may again have spaces where our LGBTQIA+ community and allies can both perform and enjoy drag.

“I never imagined that we would need to go to federal court to stand up for our performers, customers and community, or that the Texas Attorney General’s Office would request I demonstrate twerking in the courtroom,” Montez continued. “LGBTQIA+ Texans, including queer and trans Texans of color, belong in this state. Drag performances allow us to celebrate and provide economic support to our community. We are asking the court to permanently stop S.B. 12 from stripping away our joy, freedom, and business.”

Jason Rocha, president of The Woodlands Pride, said, “It is inappropriate for the state to paint drag as ‘adult content’ when drag is as varied as theater and movies and can be for audiences of all ages. If people do not like drag, no one is forcing them to watch it. This temporary decision gives us hope that the court will allow LGBTQIA+ Texans to keep expressing ourselves and supporting each other through drag shows and Pride festivals.”

Abilene Pride Alliance President Gavyn Hardegree thanked the court for the injunction, saying that Gov. Greg Abbott and “his political allies want to use scare tactics and bigotry to erase LGBTQIA+ identities, especially Black and brown nonbinary and trans Texans. Our organization works to create a safe space where every person has the freedom to express themselves free from government censorship, no matter our race and gender.”

And Kerry Lynn, founder and creative services director for Extragrams, said SB12 would “decimate small businesses like ours across the state and cost local economies millions of dollars by deterring artists who perform in music festivals, concerts, and touring plays to skip the state to avoid defying the law if their performance was arbitrarily deemed ‘sexual’. Nobody should face intimidation or violence for hosting, performing in, or supporting an event that celebrates drag.”

Equality Texas, The Mahogany Project and the Transgender Education Network of Texas are organizational partners in the lawsuit.

Verniss McFarland III, founder and executive director of The Mahogany Project, said, “Drag can be a source of healing for those who observe and those who participate. Drag provides economic opportunities and a creative outlet to those who have endured life’s adversities, systematic oppression and denial of our nation’s inalienable rights. Drag is also about reducing harm, preventing suicide and preserving art.

“Drag offers a sustainable source of income for many LGBTQIA+ Texans as performers and small business owners,” McFarland added. “The truth is that drag is so many different things to so many different people. To take something away that manifests itself in the lives of many Texans in various ways could cause us unanticipated economic and personal damage.”

TENT Senior Field and Policy Advisor Andrea Segovia, said, “The goal of this law is to chip away at our freedoms and eventually erase queer and trans existence from the public sphere. Our community and our art will not be silenced or erased. Our community has fought too long to exist to let a drag ban stop us from challenging gender norms, celebrating our identities, and preserving queer culture.”

Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez said, “Texans have real problems that need real solutions [and] lawmakers’ obsession with an art form they don’t understand, animus against a business owner they’ve never met and fear of a community that just wants to be left alone isn’t solving any problems.

“If you don’t like drag, stay home.”

To read a copy of the temporary restraining order, go here.

— Tammye Nash