© 2023 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Local advocates react to Florida’s drag show ban 

 Drag performers at a local drag show
Terrah Card
Drag performers at a local drag show

Drag has been around for centuries.

What started in Shakespearean plays has become a popular art form in the modern day. Drag has been featured in children's films like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and cult classics like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” In recent years, its popularity has skyrocketed with the success of television shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race."

Support Local Stories. Donate Here.

Drag shows have become a mainstay among the LGBTQ+ community and its allies over the last century. Now, the state of Florida has banned them for anyone under the age of 18.

Last month, The Florida Senate passed SB 1438, a bill that would punish businesses and individuals from admitting minors to “adult live performances,” specifying imitation or prosthetic breasts as an attribute. The bill, which was signed into law by Governor DeSantis last week, also bans governments from giving permits to venues or events with such performances.

“It’s just ridiculous and childish, because the whole point of the bill is to specifically target trans people and drag entertainers, and really anyone who is dressing differently,” said Terrah Card, a Pensacola-based drag queen who has been performing professionally since 2017. “The bill is very vague, it's a way of deflecting real issues.”

While the law's language is vague, some proponents of it say that it would stop the sexualization of minors. Gov. DeSantis spoke of a video he saw last year where children were supposedly placing money into the underwear of drag queens.

“Having kids involved in this is wrong,” the governor said. “That is not consistent with our law and policy in the state of Florida, and it is a disturbing trend in our society to try to sexualize these young people. That is not the way you look out for our children, you protect children. You do not expose them to things that are inappropriate.”

Those opposed to the law say that all ages drag shows are appropriate and do no such thing.

“The words that they’re using publicly is that we’re groomers and that drag queens are grooming children to be gay,” said Rob Harper, show director at The Cabaret and drag queen who goes by the name Dee Ranged. “We’re not trying to groom kids into anything, we’re trying to show everybody that everyone is accepted, because it’s so different now than it used to be. For a political party to come in and tell us that’s wrong just baffles me.”

The law also brings into question a parent’s right to make decisions for their children. Although many drag shows in the area are 18 and up, some are open to all ages. Opponents of the law believe that the government should not be allowed to tell parents what they can and cannot do with their children as long as they aren’t harming the child.

RELATED: Drag show restaurant files a federal lawsuit against Florida and DeSantis

“Drag shows are even more tame than most R-rated movies,” said Brody Parker, founder of Liberation Pensacola, a monthly LGBTQ-friendly pop-up drag and dancing event. “There’s no sex during drag shows, it’s not a sexual thing. At adult shows, there may be comedy related to sex, but it’s not this whole sexual perversion thing. Drag is about the exaggeration of the opposite sex.”

“It’s really sad that they’re taking away that freedom for us to entertain families and for families to expose children to art,” Harper added.

The new law raises concerns about how it will affect outdoor pride events with drag performers. Now that it is law, drag performers will have to hold shows at indoor venues where minors cannot be admitted.

The law also brings into question the livelihood and safety of local drag performers.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” said Terrah Card. “I’m scared to go out in public in drag, I’m scared that someone will come to my show and say something. In today’s society, anyone can make a decision that can cost people their lives.”

“I am worried about the drag scene here and the drag performers themselves,” Parker said. “Their safety and their wellbeing is at stake, along with a lot of LGBTQ kids.”

 Terrah Card
Terrah Card

While a drag show ban for minors will affect drag performers and families, it may also affect the local and state economy. Drag shows generate revenue not only for performers but businesses who organize them.

Moving forward, local LGBTQ+ advocates say that the best thing you can do to combat this law and others like it is to vote for politicians on the local, state, and federal levels who will fight for what you believe in.

“If you’re going to ignore what’s happening, you’re letting the bigotry continue,” said Terrah Card. “My life is now political, me existing is political, so yeah, I need to get into politics. I need people to recognize that we need to show compassion and empathy for other people.”

For now, the fight against ant-LGBTQ legislation continues. Recently, drag performers and allies from across the state protested SB 1438 at the Florida Capitol.

“We need to get out to vote to make sure all of our voices are heard, because right now we’re just being sheltered and silenced,” Harper said. “We are not a community to be erased, we have been fighting a long time and we’ve come a long way.”

For more information about the new law and other legislation recently signed by Gov. DeSantis, click here.

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.