State settles Christmas drag show complaint with Miami hotel, venue. The fine: $5,000

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The Hyatt Regency Miami has agreed to pay a $5,000 fine to settle a legal dispute with the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis over a minor’s presence at a Christmas-themed drag queen show last year.

The event — “A Drag Queen Christmas” — was held on Dec. 27, 2022 at the James L. Knight Center, a 4,500-seat auditorium affiliated with the downtown hotel that typically hosts concerts, graduation ceremonies and other events. The show was hosted by Nina West, a star from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and minors were required to be accompanied by an adult to attend.

On Wednesday, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation announced that in addition to the fine, the James L. Knight Center, which is owned by the city of Miami, has agreed to bar minors from attending any performance that “contains, depicts or simulates” sexual activity.

In March, state regulators were seeking to revoke the venue’s liquor license, claiming it had violated the state’s public morals and public decency laws for hosting performers who were “wearing sexually suggestive clothing and prosthetic female genitalia.”

The settlement did not find any violations of administrative or criminal laws, records show. But the head of the state agency that oversaw the complaint suggested in a statement that the Hyatt Regency Miami had been held accountable.

“DBPR takes the safety and well-being of Floridians seriously; I thank our hardworking officers for thoroughly investigating these violations of Florida law and protecting minors at our DBPR-licensed establishments from this harm in the future,” Melanie Griffin, the state agency’s secretary, said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Hyatt Regency Miami did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

One of several settlements

The case against the “A Drag Queen Christmas” show at the James L. Knight Center is the third one the state has settled over disputes of minors witnessing drag queen shows. The other two cases — against the historic Plaza Live theater in Orlando and R House in Wynwood — also resulted in fines and no findings of any violations of state rules and laws.

The settlements come after DeSantis and his administration began targeting drag queen shows that allows minors in the audience — a once common practice that long went on without drawing much attention from state politicians — in the lead up to his 2022 re-election and presidential campaign launch.

Critics say DeSantis pushed the drag show issue to bolster his anti-LGBTQ agenda, while some conservatives saw the fight as a push to go after what they perceived to be “gender ideology” or the “sexualization of children.”

READ MORE: ‘Public outrage’ over Miami drag show started with conservative influencer from Canada

When the issue gained traction in conservative circles, the Republican-dominated Legislature followed suit and earlier this year voted to prevent venues from admitting children to adult live performances.

The law, which was signed by DeSantis, does not directly mention drag queen shows, but it targets adult live performances that are defined as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience, which, in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or specific sexual activities, … lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

Regulators would be able to suspend or revoke licenses of restaurants, bars and other venues that violate the laws, and people could face first-degree misdemeanor charges for “knowingly” admitting children to adult live performance.

The state law has faced legal challenges. In June, a federal judge temporarily blocked the enforcement of the law, saying the law was “specially designed to suppress the speech of drag queen performers.”