SB 12 Ditches 'Drag' References for 'Sexually Oriented Performances' | Dallas Observer


Anti-Drag Bill Ditches Drag References. Some Argue 'There Are Other Things We Could Focus On.'

If Senate Bill 12 is enacted, offending businesses could face civil penalties of up to $10,000.
If Senate Bill 12 is enacted, offending businesses could face civil penalties of up to $10,000. Photo by Brielle French on Unsplash
Conservatives in the Texas Legislature have worked this session to outlaw drag performances in the presence of minors.

Yet Senate Bill 12, which was geared toward doing just that, recently dropped verbiage specifically aimed at drag queens and kings, i.e., people who perform as a member of the opposite sex, The Dallas Morning News reported last week.

Trey Stewart, owner of Dallas' Mr. Misster, knows what it’s like to come under attack for hosting drag shows. His bar became the site of a widely publicized, heated protest because of an all-ages drag brunch last June.

The House version of SB 12 may have shed drag references, but it still takes aim at “sexually oriented performances.” To Stewart, drag doesn’t fall under that umbrella.

“There can be dance moves that are considered more sexual in nature, but it's nothing that you're not seeing in an Ariana Grande music video,” he said. “So does [removing drag references] help? Yes, because it has felt so far that the attack is pointed directly at drag queens, and unnecessarily so.

“There is no argument from the LGBTQ side that children should not be exposed to certain things,” Stewart continued. “Drag and gay rights is just not one of them.”

Over the past year or so, conservative lawmakers in Texas and across the nation have targeted drag shows as part of a growing moral panic. Yet many LGBTQ+ advocates argue that drag isn't inherently  detrimental to kids and should be celebrated, not feared.

House lawmakers debated SB 12 last week, and the bill was approved Friday by a 9-4 committee vote. Should it be enacted, businesses that defy SB 12 could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 and performers could spend up to a year in jail plus a $4,000 fine.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick named SB 12 as one of his top 30 priorities for the current legislative session.

State Rep. Matt Shaheen, a Plano Republican, warned House lawmakers last week of a “growing trend” of children getting exposed to live, sexually oriented performances.

He said that SB 12 would help to end the “sexualization of children” in Texas, explaining that he ditched the bill’s drag performer references because it doesn’t matter whether someone’s in drag if they’re behaving inappropriately in front of kids.

“Children are sufficiently protected from being sexualized without this reference to drag shows,” Shaheen said.

"[T]his narrative that the lives of LGBTQ people are scandalous or taboo keeps getting pushed around, and this bill absolutely plays into that." – Johnathan Gooch, Equality Texas

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Johnathan Gooch, communications director for Equality Texas, pointed out that SB 12’s language has changed on the House side. The committee substitute no longer includes drag references, but there’s a chance that it could come up again on the floor as an amendment.

“Or, if the bill goes to conference committee, it could come up yet again, because it was in the original bill on the Senate side,” Gooch said. “So it's fair game for the conference committee to bring it up.”

Also worth noting is that the new version of the bill creates an offense, Gooch said. The term “sexually oriented performance” doesn’t currently exist under Texas law, but it’s already illegal to have explicit performances in front of kids, he said.

“That's why sexually oriented businesses require people to show ID and to be 18 and up, and it's why we have indecency statutes and all these other things that already create that kind of protection for minors,” he said. “So part of the complexity is that because this was introduced as a drag bill, people don't understand what's going on.”

(Stewart noted that an investigation into Mr. Misster was launched last year, but the bar didn’t meet the qualification for a sexually oriented business.)

Books are being banned for featuring supposedly sexual content, even though they might only be about a kid with two dads or a transgender sibling, Gooch said. There isn’t anything inherently sexual about those stories.

“But this narrative that the lives of LGBTQ people are scandalous or taboo keeps getting pushed around, and this bill absolutely plays into that,” Gooch added.

Even though SB 12 hasn’t yet been enacted, Gooch warned that such anti-drag legislation already has a “chilling effect.”

NBC News reported last week, for instance, that one of Texas’ two lesbian bars, Houston-based Pearl Bar, is in jeopardy after being refused insurance. The business’ owner told NBC’s Houston affiliate that underwriters denied the bar insurance because it hosts drag shows.

If Pearl Bar were to close, Sue Ellen’s in Dallas would be the only lesbian bar in Texas, according to NBC.

Texas isn’t the only state to turn its nose up at drag. The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking 474 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including those aimed at drag performances, in state legislatures across the country.

The way Stewart sees it, “to weaponize drag queens is just the craziest thing.” It’s a form of artistic expression meant to make people smile.

“Drag queens are there to brighten your day, so to try to weaponize that is just mind-boggling,” he said, later adding: “I think there are other things we could focus on.”
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Simone Carter is a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer who graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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