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A bill that targets drag queens seeks to ban kids from what bill supporters call adult performances

Person dressed as drag queen speaks behind microphone
The Florida Channel
Several drag queens spoke during the committee meeting to share their perspective on the bill

Whether kids can attend performances such as drag shows could soon be out of parent’s hands. A bill from Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) for would punish establishments like restaurants and hotels for "knowingly" letting kids in such events, but opponents say the measure smacks of an anti-LGBTQ agenda.

Under the measure, individuals could face fines and jail time and businesses could lose their licenses if they knowingly admit minors to an adult live performance.

Fine's bill defines adult performance 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,” “specific sexual activities” as those terms
are defined in s. 847.001, F.S., “lewd conduct,” or the “lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals
or breasts” when it:
- Predominately appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest;
- Is patently offense to prevailing standards in the adult community of this state as a whole
with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for the age of the child present; and
- Taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for the age of
the child present.”

But Rep. Dottie Joseph (D-North Miami) says some of those terms are hard to define.

“Who siting here today can just think about what those definitions are and can say there’s a consistent definition that most people will know what those mean? We can’t because what I will think is lewd will be very different from what somebody else thinks is lewd," Joseph said.

Joseph said if lawmakers can’t agree on what those terms mean, she doesn’t see how police officers charged with enforcing the proposed law will be able to decide. She says as an attorney she represents law enforcement.

"They're just trying to do their best to do their job so they're going to show up and be like, well, it's a drag show so we're just going to have no kids allowed. They're not going to get into this legal analysis," Joseph said.

Joseph says even without this bill becoming law, that’s already begun to play out. The staff analysis mentions several pending cases involving venues that hosted drag shows and allowed children to attend as long as they were accompanied by an adult. The Department of Businesses and Professional Regulations is pursuing investigations and seeking to revoke their liquor licenses.

Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) asks who decides what counts as art or political value under the bill. She says a drag show is by definition an artistic performance.

“The mere statement of existence, that speech alone is powerful. That we are here, we exist and we aren’t going anywhere. One could argue that’s political speech," Eskamani said.

Even Fine admits when it comes to deciding whether a drag queen event would fit the definition of live adult show in his measure, the answer to that question is less than certain.

“I don’t know that you can say inherently that a drag show does these things as this is defined right here. It’s not about what they're wearing it's about the conduct and it’s about what is being shown," Fine said.

But Fine does say a Drag Queen story time advertised in his community is what spurred him to file the bill. Fine shared that story in a heated closing argument during his measure’s first committee stop. He said after he heard about the story time he looked it up and was unhappy with what he found.

“We’re going to do story time to target children, typically elementary school, six to eight to celebrate the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of children. Right there on the website," Fine said.

Opponents of the bill say drag performances are part of LGBTQ culture and can help kids who are part of that community feel seen and recognized. Fine’s bill passed it’s first committee. A similar bill is moving through the Senate.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy covers healthcare and government in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.