Texas Will Appeal After Federal Judge Overturns Law Banning Drag Shows in Front of Children

'This fight is far from over,' said Jonathan Covey, director of policy for Texas Values.
Texas Will Appeal After Federal Judge Overturns Law Banning Drag Shows in Front of Children
Conservative Texans protest a drag queen event held at a church in Katy, Texas, on Sept. 24, 2022. (Darlene McCormick Sanchez/The Epoch Times)
Jana J. Pruet

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office on Wednesday said it would appeal a federal judge's ruling to overturn a law to prohibit drag shows in front of children.

"The Office of the Attorney General will appeal this ruling," a spokesperson for Mr. Paxton told The Epoch Times in an email.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge David Hittner issued a permanent injunction (pdf) blocking Senate Bill 12, declaring it an “unconstitutional restriction on speech.” Judge Hittner was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

"The infringement of the Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights and the impending chilling effect S.B. 12 will have on speech, in general, outweighs any hardship on the State of Texas," Judge Hittner wrote in a 56-page ruling.

A temporary restraining order previously issued by the court blocked the law from taking effect on Sept. 1.

The law would have prohibited “sexually oriented performances” from taking place on commercial or public property in the presence of individuals under 18.

The bill (pdf) defines a sexually-oriented performance as a visual performance in which the entertainer is nude or wearing makeup, clothing, or other markers of the opposite sex while lip-syncing, singing, or dancing in front of an audience and appealing to the “prurient interest in sex.”
“Surely, we can agree that children should be protected from sexually explicit performances. That’s what Senate Bill 12 is about. This is a common sense and completely constitutional law, and we look forward to defending it all the way to the Supreme Court if that’s what it takes,” Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, who authored the bill, wrote on X following the decision.

What It Means

The ruling blocks government officials from enforcing S.B. 12, which Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law on June 18.

“This fight is far from over, as this ruling will certainly be appealed. S.B. 12 would clearly protect kids from hyper-sexualized performances in the state of Texas. Obscenity in front of kids is never appropriate," Jonathan Covey, director of policy for Texas Values, said in a statement following Tuesday’s ruling.

Mr. Abbott's office did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times' request for comment.

In August, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of The Woodlands Pride, Abilene Pride Alliance, Extragrams, 360 Queen Entertainment, and Brigitte Bandit.

The plaintiffs argued that the law threatened their livelihoods, censored free speech, and "vilified" their art form, according to the ACLU.

"I am relieved and grateful for the court's ruling," drag performer Brigitte Bandit said in a news release. "My livelihood and community [have] seen enough hatred and harm from our elected officials. This decision is a much-needed reminder that queer Texans belong and we deserve to be heard by our lawmakers."

In a separate case, a federal judge ruled in favor of a Texas university president who canceled an on-campus drag show earlier this year.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk found that West Texas A&M University (WT) President Walter Wendler did not violate students' First Amendment rights when he called off the drag show scheduled for March 31 (pdf).

The event, which was open to children accompanied by a parent or guardian, was to be hosted by WT Spectrum as a fundraiser for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that describes itself as working to "end suicide among LGBTQ young people." The event was dubbed "A Fool's Drag Race," according to the 26-page court ruling.

"The First Amendment does not prevent school officials from restricting 'vulgar and lewd' conduct that would 'undermine the school's basic educational mission'—particularly in settings where children are physically present," wrote Judge Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2017.

Lawsuit Against University

In its complaint, Spectrum WT accused the university president of defying the Constitution and barring a recognized student group.
"The 'law of the land' is the First Amendment to the United States," reads the complaint filed on March 24 (pdf). "And our Constitution prohibits public officials, including public university presidents, from silencing Americans because a public official dislikes certain points of view."

Ten days ahead of the event, Mr. Wendler said the university "will not host a drag show on campus," sparking anger from the student group.

"Does a drag show preserve a single thread of human dignity? I think not," Mr. Wendler wrote in a letter to students and staff on March 21. "As a performance exaggerating aspects of womanhood (sexuality, femininity, gender), drag shows stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood. Any event which diminishes an individual or group through such representation is wrong.

"Should I let rest misogynistic behavior portraying women as objects?" he continued. "While I am not a woman, my best friend I have been married to for over a half-century is. I am also blessed to have daughters-in-law and granddaughters. Demeaning any demeans all. This is not an intellectual abstraction but a stark reality."

The judge said Mr. Wendler’s decision to cancel the drag show was "objectively reasonable."

"There is a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors," wrote Judge Kacsmaryk, citing Sable Communications of California Inc. v F.C.C. (1989).

"Even if clearly established rights were violated, President Wendler's decision was still objectively reasonable."

Bill Pan contributed to this report.
Jana is an award-winning investigative journalist. She covers news in Texas with a focus on politics, energy, and crime. Jana has reported for many media outlets over the years, including Reuters, The Dallas Morning News, and TheBlaze, among others. She has a journalism degree from Southern Methodist University. Send your story ideas to: [email protected]
Related Topics