News (USA)

Texas wants to let kids sue if their parents takes them to a drag show

Drag Queen Story Hour
Photo: Drag Queen Story Hour Instagram

Texas state Rep. Steve Toth (R) has introduced a “bounty hunter” bill that would allow any underage attendee of any “offensive” and “sexual” drag show to sue anyone who promotes, hosts, or participates in the show.

The bill is similar to the anti-abortion bill state legislators passed in May 2021 which allows people to sue anyone who helps another person access an abortion.

Toth’s bill defines a drag performance as any act in which “a performer exhibits a gender that is different than the performer’s gender recorded at birth.” This would include any transgender performer (possibly even a trans person just singing a karaoke song) or any cross-dressing actor, including, for example, those in Shakespearean plays and in numerous stage comedies and musicals.

In order for a minor to sue, the drag performance must be “lascivious.” That is, “of a sexual nature that is offensive to community standards of decency,” a broad and subjective standard. This includes “intentional exposure of genitalia,” the bill states, something that isn’t a part of most drag performances.

A minor can sue any defendant who “knowingly promotes, conducts, or participates as a performer” in the show up to 10 years after the performance if those the person being sued “fails to take reasonable steps to restrict access to the performance by minors.” A person can also sue even if their own parent brought them to the performance.

A defendant can only protect themselves from the lawsuit if they “reasonably believed the minor was at least 18 years of age” at the time of the performance.

By allowing citizens (rather than state officials) to sue, the bill — like the aforementioned anti-abortion bill — is deliberately written to avoid potential lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. Such lawsuits nominally target state officeholders so that constitutional questions can be brought up before the law goes into effect. But here, there is no state officer who can be sued for the potential chilling effects on free speech that this bill could create.

Toth’s bill is just one of several seeking to ban drag in the Lone Star State. State Republicans have also introduced four bills that would reclassify any businesses that host drag shows as “sexually oriented businesses” and subject them to higher taxes, fees, and zoning laws, essentially forcing venues to choose between hosting a drag show or being shut down.

Toth himself has introduced anti-LGBTQ+ legislation before. This year, he filed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning LGBTQ+ discussions from elementary school classrooms and another bill redefining gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth as a form of “child abuse.”

Tennessee recently passed a drag ban, and at least 17 other states are considering one. These bans have been authored under the guidance of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a rabidly anti-LGBTQ+ legal advocacy and hate group. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union said the goal of these bills is to criminalize trans identity and gender non-conformity.

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