LGBTQ advocates sue Texas over state’s drag ban; say new law could also criminalize ballet, karaoke

A group of drag artists, management companies and LGBTQ nonprofits in Texas are seeking to block a controversial new law that could be used to censor a large number of constitutionally protected performances — including drag shows, theater, ballet and even karaoke nights.

On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sued the state’s attorney general and other officials to prevent Senate Bill 12 from taking effect on Sep. 1.

The bill — one of several anti-LGBTQ measures approved by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature earlier this year — was signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on June 18.

Advocates argue the “unconstitutional” ban violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and “threatens the livelihood and free expression of many Texans, including drag performers.”

Even though the bill was amended to remove language that explicitly defined “a male performer exhibiting as a female, or a female performer exhibiting as a male” as sexual conduct, critics say its vague and broad language gives state officials the power to target any performance they don’t like — including drag shows,

SB 12 targets “any performance that could be perceived as ‘sexual’ and proposes criminal penalties, including up to a year in jail, for artists and others who support them,” the ACLU of Texas said in a news release.

“The Texas Drag Ban is stunningly broad in scope and will chill entire genres of free expression in our state,” ACLU of Texas attorney Brian Klosterboer said in a statement. “No performer should ever be thrown in jail because the government disfavors their speech, and we are asking the Court to block this affront to every Texan’s constitutional rights.”

The organization is representing two Texas LGBTQ nonprofits, two drag production companies that “have already suffered negative impacts from the ban,” and Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag artist, producer and queer rights advocate.

“Texas queens and kings from across our great state have been targets of threats and misinformation as a result of the anti-drag law,” the lifelong Texan said, accusing Republicans of using the LGBTQ community as a “scapegoat.”

“State leaders should focus on legitimate issues, not political stunts,” she said.