State Rep. Steve Toth, crusader against drag

In yet another effort to turn time back more than a century or so and create what some folks are calling “a bounty hunting culture,” Texas state Rep. Steve Toth — a Republican, believe it or not — has filed a bill that would allow anybody who saw a drag show when they were under 18 to sue those person who hosted or performed in that drag show.

Now, Texas law already lets you sue somebody you think had or helped someone else have an abortion. Now, if Steve Toth gets his way, performers can get sued for the cardinal sin of drag.

Toth lives in The Woodlands, just north of Houston, and represents District 15, which includes the southern part of Montgomery County. He is also — surprise, surprise — an ordained minister, and he is board chair of an organization called Mighty Oaks Foundation which, according to Toth’s bio on the Texas House website, “bring[s] veterans with post-traumatic stress the message that Christ longs to heal broken hearts.”

HB 4378, which Toth filed last Thursday, March 9, would relate to “a cause of action for drag performances performed in the presence of a minor,” and it would define a drag performance as “a performance in which a performer exhibits a gender that is different than the performer ’s gender recorded at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances or otherwise performs in a lascivious manner before an audience.”

(I think he should have tried harder to get some form of the word “performer” or “performance” in that sentence.)

And just in case you are wondering, lascivious means “conduct of a sexual nature that is offensive to community standards of decency. The term includes the intentional exposure of genitalia in the presence of a minor.”

Because yeah, drag queens and kings so often flash the audience with their genitalia — you know, that part of their anatomy they have worked so hard to conceal as part of the drag illusion.

The bill reads, in part, “An individual who attends a drag performance as a minor may bring an action against a person who knowingly promotes, conducts, or participates as a performer in the drag performance that occurs before an audience that includes the minor.”

The fact that the minor in question was brought to the drag performance by their own parents or guardians would not be considered a defense against such a lawsuit, and apparently, neither would the fact that the minor attended of their own free will, considering the way it is worded.

But if the performer or host or whomever can provide the minor showed fake ID and claimed they were 18 or that the performer or host “reasonably believed” the minor in question was over 18 at the time, that’s an “affirmative defense.”

And you have up to 10 years after the event to file suit. File suit and win and you get paid actual damages including damages for psychological, emotional, economic, and physical harm;, attorney’s fees and statutory damages of $5,000.

Now, we should note that Toth filed his bill just a day before the deadline for filing bills in the 2023 Texas Legislature, and that bills filed in that last week before the filing deadline are less likely to even be assigned to a committee, much less make it through the process to become law.

But this is Texas, where homophobes and transphobes like Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton — who want to remove trans children from loving homes and put parents in jail for providing their trans children with proper health care — reign supreme in state government. So we can’t take anything for granted.

— Tammye Nash