During a meeting of the City Commission this past Thursday, May 11, commissioners as well as the city’s mayor voted to amending the permit for Stonewall Pride Inc. to force compliance of a new state law that expands the definition of “live adult entertainment” to include drag entertainment that is awaiting Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature.
LGBTQ Media outlet South Florida Gay News reported that the new permit language reads: “Organization responsibilities to include language regarding a possible new state law pursuant to Senate Bill 1438 and House Bill 1423. These bills prohibit performances in violation of section 827.11. Florida Statutes.”
The law itself does not specifically mention drag shows, but it authorizes state government officials within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to suspend or revoke the liquor license of any establishment that admits minors to a live, adult performance. A person who admits a child to such a show would face a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.
“We may be constrained by the narrowest interpretation of the law today but that does not dissuade us from our long-term fight against injustice against our community,” Jeff Stirling, CEO of Stonewall Pride Inc., told SFGN exclusively.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton said people marginalized by the law are still welcome to be part of the event. “We’re proud to have drag queens and the transgender community come and walk and ride in floats down Wilton Drive. And that’s not going to change, not on our watch.”
During the contentious debate over the bill prior to its Senate passage, telling her colleagues that drag is a “form of art,” Senator Lori Berman (D-Palm Beach) stated that the law puts “Targets on the backs off queer Floridians,” and added, “This legislation targets queer artistry. It targets the freedom of expression.”
Opponents claim that this law is to protect children. “Let kids be kids,” Rep. Doug Bankson, R-Apopka, said during the House debate on the bill. “Protect them from losing their innocence.” Anti-LGBTQ Christian Family Coalition spokesperson Anthony Verdugo said “There’s a problem in this state when we have private establishments that feature drag brunches with children. There was a video that was posted on Facebook went viral showing a 3-year-old that was accompanied by a performer that looked more like a stripper. That’s inappropriate.”
At issue with parade organizers and others in Pride groups across the state is whether the law would actually be applicable to parades. The organizers and group that operates the Treasure Coast Pridefest in Port St. Lucie announced last month that Pridefest will only be accessible to residents 21-years-old or older.
The announcement also notified the greater Treasure Coast community that the Pride parade was cancelled. In a statement the Pride Alliance of the Treasure Coast said:
“As all of you know, the political climate that we are currently in has us all very concerned for our community. After multiple meetings with city officials, it is with a heavy heart that Pride Alliance of the Treasure Coast has to announce that this weekend’s Pridefest will now be a 21 and older event. The city has decided that with the likelihood that the Governor will sign the latest bill into effect this evening, that we will need to be on the side of caution and has required us to make this necessary change. We are obviously upset and dishearten that it has come to this. We also regret to announce that we will have to cancel our plans to bring back our beloved parade.”
SFGN reported that before the vote, more than a dozen people got up to speak against the law and the city’s acquiescence. Wilton Manors City Commissions’ meeting spoke up against banning drag from the parade:
“The laws are just unjust,” said one speaker representing Georgie’s Alibi Monkey Bar. “We are entertainers. We are emcees. We are comedians in our culture, not criminals.”
Coco Lords sat near the front in full regalia representing the drag community.
“I’m here to make sure we are heard and are seen,” she said. “To show that we are one community and we have to represent each other and stand up for each other.”
Michael Rajner, chair of Broward County’s Human Rights Board, said, “We are not safe in Florida, but we stay here. Some of us are going to stay here and fight. We hope we have enough Democrats that are registered that will vote and we can start stemming that tide.”
Brandon Wolf, the Press Secretary for the largest state-wide LGBTQ+ equality and human rights advocacy group Equality Florida, in a text with the Blade noted: “These are the intended chilling effects of DeSantis’ slate of hate legislation. Just as the Don’t Say LGBTQ law didn’t direct school districts to rip down rainbow stickers, this bill does not ban drag or pride. But it uses vague language and threats to induce self-censorship.”
The ACLU of Florida condemned the passage of Senate Bill 1438 (SB 1438) and its companion bill, House Bill 1423. Kara Gross, ACLU of Florida’s legislative director and senior policy counsel, responded in a statement:
“Parents, not politicians, have the right to decide how to raise their children and what they are allowed to view. This harmful bill effectively revokes the rights of parents to determine what content is appropriate for their own families, even their teenagers. As if book bans and curriculum censorship weren’t enough, the Florida Legislature is now imposing its views on parents and families at the cost of LGBTQ+ people.
“Make no mistake: SB 1438 is a blatant attempt to erase drag performers and silence the LGBTQ+ community.
“The unclear and vaguely worded bill will impact businesses and venues that host plays, musical performances, art exhibits, and other forms of expression that the state may subjectively deem inappropriate. Will parents be able to take their families to the opera if there are singers performing in roles that require cross-dressing? What about Shakespeare performances? Furthermore, all it would take is a teen with a fake ID for a business owner to lose everything. We have grave concerns that businesses may end up self-censoring rather than running afoul of the law and risk losing their license or becoming entangled with the criminal legal system.
“With this bill, Gov. DeSantis and certain politicians are imposing their personal beliefs on Floridians by punishing private businesses that support the LGBTQ+ community. The Governor likes to tout that he is ‘pro-businesses,’ but this bill is anything but that. This is an extreme governmental overreach of power. This is not democracy. This is not freedom.”