In December, Florida sent a small squad of undercover state agents to an Orlando drag show at the Plaza Live theater with the express purpose of documenting any possible “lewd” activity performed in front of children. According to their subsequent report obtained by the Miami Herald, the agents identified several minors in attendance, but stated that no “lewd acts” took place at the show. Nonetheless, the Herald reported on Monday that the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation still filed a complaint against the nonprofit that runs Plaza Live.
The department wants to essentially shut down Plaza Live by stripping it of its liquor license, and claims without evidence that the venue exposed children to sexual content—in contrast with the agents’ own report obtained by the Herald. “Besides some of the outfits being provocative [bikinis and short shorts], agents did not witness any lewd acts such as exposure of genital organs,” the report stated. “The performers did not have any physical contact while performing to the rhythm of the music with any patrons.”
The Herald put the holiday-themed drag show—“A Drag Queen Christmas—into perspective:
The Dec. 28 performance featured campy skits like ‘Screwdolph the Red-Nippled Man Deer’ and shimmying, bare-chested men who wouldn’t have been out of place at a Madonna concert. Also a hip thrust or two, similar to what is sometimes indulged in by NFL players after a touchdown. All of it was dutifully recorded by the undercover agents on state-issued iPhones.
Not only did the undercover agents write that they “did not witness any lewd acts,” but nothing about the performance appeared to deviate from what regularly happens on American television.
That drag is being singled out doesn’t surprise LGBTQ advocates, because Florida’s legislature is currently considering a proposal to define drag shows as an “immediate, serious danger to public health, safety, or welfare.” The bill broadly defines a range of prohibited “lewd” acts and performances, and allows the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to fine those in violation up to $10,000 per violation.
“What you see here is the governor sending in investigators and then dismissing what the investigators have to say because it doesn’t fit into his narrative,” Guillermo Smith of Equality Florida told the Miami Herald. “It’s more evidence that all of this…is contrived, it’s politically motivated. And it’s not about protecting children.”
NEW: Florida undercover agents reported no 'lewd acts' at Orlando drag show, but saw minors in the crowd.
DeSantis' admin is going after the venue's liquor license anyway, claiming venue illegally exposed children to sexual content.https://t.co/eVPka6FkBu w/ @NickNehamas
— Ana Ceballos (@anaceballos_) March 20, 2023
Speaking to the Herald, one 60-year-old woman had words for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s complaint against Plaza Live. “I’m almost 60 and it was my first drag show. I had a blast. I thought it was hilarious,” Orlando resident Ann Berendzen said. “Every one of the accusations is false. They’re not exaggerated. They are completely false. It’s gross.”
That the undercover agents ultimately concurred that no “lewd acts” were performed at “A Drag Queen Christmas” show is beside the point: Florida sent state agents to target and surveil LGBTQ performers, and is now attempting to censor and punish their speech.
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