Hundreds of drag queens march on Florida capital to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation

Hundreds of drag performers gathered Tuesday in Tallahassee, Fla., to protest a slate of proposed bills that would roll back the rights of LGBTQ people.

More than 300 drag queens and allies on Tuesday marched to the steps of the Florida Capitol building to protest legislation that would bar certain drag performances, as well as state bills that would restrict gender-affirming health care for transgender youths and bar transgender athletes from sports teams consistent with their gender identity, among others.

The LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, which helped organize the event, said Tuesday’s protest is the largest of its kind. Organizers said the protest is intended to educate the public about the “rich history of Drag as a form of cultural artistic expression suitable for all ages.”

The demonstration also aims to warn Florida officials and the public of the proposed law’s unintended economic consequences.

“Anything from local brunches, theatrical productions such as Shakespeare or the Mrs. Doubtfire musical, to major concerts featuring performers like Madonna or Sam Smith could all be canceled by venues who fear elements of Drag will be in violation of the law,” organizers said.

At least 10 bills targeting LGBTQ rights have been introduced this year by lawmakers in Florida, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, including Senate Bill 1438, a measure that would allow the state to fine, suspend or revoke the food and beverage licenses of businesses that admit minors to an “adult live performance.”

Such performances under the proposed law include “any exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience” that “depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities” or other “lewd conduct.”

The measure mirrors recent steps taken by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) administration to crack down on drag performances in the state. In July, DeSantis filed a complaint against a Miami restaurant that hosted a drag event with children present, citing a 1947 state Supreme Court ruling that “men impersonating women” in a “suggestive and indecent” fashion constitutes a public nuisance.

DeSantis cited the same ruling in a complaint filed last month against the Hyatt Regency Miami hotel after it hosted a Christmas-themed drag show in December. Minors were permitted to attend “A Drag Queen Christmas” if they were accompanied by an adult.

similar complaint was filed against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation after it hosted the same drag event.

Darcel Stevens, a drag queen and LGBTQ rights activist from Orlando who helped organize Tuesday’s rally, said in a statement shared with media ahead of the protest that the current slate of legislation under consideration in Florida is “cruel, unjust [and] full of hypocrisy.”

“Drag Queens are not just entertainers, we’re valued contributors to society — small business owners, parents, teachers, nurses, first responders and much more,” Stevens said Tuesday in the statement. “Floridians know we pose no threat.”

“That’s why we’re united here using our powerful collective voices to encourage political activism, register voters, and resist policies that harm us and the brothers and sisters in our LGBTQIA+ community,” Stevens said. “We are not going anywhere, we will not be silent, we will rise up and we will fight back.”

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