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- Florida has recently proposed a spate of bills concerning the LGBTQ community.
- Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida leaders have often framed the move as an effort to protect children.
- A drag queen who survived the 2016 Pulse club shooting said it only further demonizes LGBTQ people.
Florida’s push to axe gender-affirming care for minors, restrict discussions of gender identity in schools, and, more recently, revoke a hotel’s liquor license after hosting a drag show have repeatedly been painted by GOP state leaders and Gov. Ron DeSantis as an urgent crusade to protect children.
But LGBTQ rights groups and communities are skeptical and maintain that the latest actions in Florida further marginalize a minority community that makes up less than 5% of the state’s population.
“On the surface level, these pieces of legislation limit job opportunities for drag entertainers, reduce resources for transgender individuals, and prevent students (both children and adults) from being educated about LGBTQ+ topics,” a drag performer who goes by the name of Venus Envy told Insider in an email. “All of these outcomes are harmful in their own right, but the greater impact of these bills is already being seen in the increase of hatred toward the LGBTQ+ community and the harmful rhetoric that drag queens are predatory.”
On Tuesday, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed a complaint to revoke the Hyatt Regency Miami’s liquor license because children were present at a drag show hosted by the venue.
The department accused the venue of violating a law against “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16 and that the performers wore sexually suggestive clothing and simulated sex acts. It’s unclear how often this law is typically enforced. The state business regulation department could not immediately be reached for comment.
DeSantis’s press secretary, Bryan Griffin, did not respond to a request for comment for this article but previously told Insider that “sexually explicit content is not appropriate to display to children and doing so violates Florida law.”
Envy, who is based in Orlando and survived the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in 2016, said the Tuesday decision to revoke a hotel’s liquor license could limit the already dwindling number of opportunities for drag performers.
Since the tragedy at Pulse, the number of venues that cater to LGBTQ people has reduced, she said, and revoking the Hyatt’s liquor license will only spook other venues if they’re at risk of losing their license. Hyatt has 21 days to request a hearing and can continue to sell alcohol, but, for Envy, “the damage has already been done.”
“Not just in terms of limiting opportunities for drag entertainers, but by demonizing the art of drag as a whole,” she wrote. “We, as a community, are scared. Not just for our jobs, but for our right to exist as queer and trans people.”
GOP leader says drag queens are part of ‘insidious organizations’
Protecting children from sexually explicit content has been the common refrain for Florida Republicans proposing bills that ban gender-affirming care for minors or discussions about gender and sexuality in schools from pre-kindergarten to third grade. A recent revision of the latter bill seeks to expand that restriction to 8th grade.
Rep. Randy Fine, whose district covers southern Brevard County, proposed a bill on March 3 entitled “Protection of Children,” which penalizes venues that admit children to see an “adult live performance.”
The bill makes no mention of drag performers and it’s not immediately clear how prevalent it is in Florida for children to be admitted into adult shows. But the lawmaker was transparent about what the proposal was in response to.
“I’m not aware of a lot of female strippers performing for children right now, I’d be interested to know that there are, but what we have is men dressing up like strippers and somehow the woke left thinks that’s OK,” Fine told WKMG-TV, in response to a question about if the bill was meant to target drag shows.
Fine told Insider his motivation for pursuing the bill came after he found out a drag queen show was hosted in a public space in his district last year.
He accused drag queens of being a part of “insidious organizations” that teach, among other things, that “gender fluidity is real.” However, the representative also said he would not support a bill that eliminates drag shows for consenting adults.
‘Right-wing hysteria’ is hurting queer communities across the state
In response to the Tuesday complaint, Equality Florida, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group, accused DeSantis of “selectively weaponizing” state agencies against businesses to target drag performances.
“How far will he take this anti-LGBTQ crusade in his desperate attempt to outrace his inevitable presidential primary opponents?” Brandon Wolf, a spokesperson for Equality Florida, said in a statement to Insider. “Will he raid movie theaters because parents take their teenagers to see R-rated movies? Will he punish electronics stores because parents buy their children certain video games? How many businesses will DeSantis target, how many families will he force to co-parent with the government in his quest to manufacture right-wing hysteria that he can monetize and weaponize?”
Even before the move to revoke Hyatt’s alcohol license, anti-LGBTQ acts of political violence and demonstrations increased three-fold across the US between 2021 and 2022, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). In Florida, there have been at least nine demonstrations against the LGBTQ community, the organization found.
Envy said she hasn’t personally noticed a drop in drag show attendance recently, but she has noticed an increase in threats and protests against drag shows.
“Being a Pulse survivor, there’s always a sense of fear in the back of my mind when I’m performing, but I can’t let that stop me,” she wrote. “Drag queens are pillars in queer communities — We need to be visible and we need to speak out.”