NEW YORK – As organizations dedicated to the freedom of thought, inquiry, and speech, we are deeply alarmed by Florida public officials’ attempts to suppress LGBTQ expression. Legislative and administrative acts of intimidation aimed at deterring access to LGBTQ culture are a serious attack on First Amendment principles.
Florida’s hostility to LGBTQ communities stands out amid an onslaught of attacks on LGBTQ literature in schools and libraries across the country. Florida’s Parental Rights in Education statute forbids classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity up through Grade 3, and a new bill, HB 1223, proposes to extend this prohibition through Grade 8 and restrict the use of students’ pronouns to those matching their assigned sex at birth. Another bill, HB 999, proposes to eradicate “radical gender theory” and queer theory from syllabi at Florida state colleges.
The state is also deploying its Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DPBR) to suppress LGBTQ expression. At least three times in the past year, the Department’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco has threatened to revoke the liquor licenses of businesses that have presented drag performances for general audiences, because the Department falsely alleges that such shows are dangerous to children.
Most recently, Florida’s DPBR filed administrative complaints against Hyatt Regency Miami and Plaza Live in Orlando, alleging that their presentations of “A Drag Queen Christmas” constitute “lewd or lascivious exhibition[s],” the contents of which represent “indecent or obscene act[s],” that are “injurious to the morals” of the people, including the minors in the audience. Citing these purported violations, the DPBR is pursuing the revocation of the businesses’ liquor licenses.
“A Drag Queen Christmas” is a holiday-themed variety show that has been running for eight consecutive years, and tours nationwide. While the performance is typically open to general audiences, following warnings from Florida’s DPBR, the Hyatt Regency Miami updated their advertising to “recommend” the performance for audiences over age 18, and required those 18 and under to be accompanied by an adult. Similarly, Plaza Live added signage to the doors of their venue indicating that some audiences may find the content inappropriate for viewers under 18.
The Department’s subsequent assessment of the performance as “sexually explicit,” “lewd,” “lascivious,” “obscene,” and appealing to the “prurient” interest in sex is a gross misrepresentation. Sexual arousal is clearly not the goal of the campy, humorous, and exaggerated aesthetics of drag performance. This was clear even to undercover state agents who were in attendance at the performance of “Drag Queen Christmas” at Plaza Live, and who acknowledged in their incident report that the show did not meet the state’s legal standards for indecency, and did not include any lewd acts.
Drag has been part of human culture as early as Ancient Greece, and is notable for the ways in which it celebrates difference, community, irreverence, self acceptance, glamor, gender expression, and—especially—humor. Its pageantry often incorporates satirical commentary on various aspects of human culture, and combines elements of performance including acting, stand-up comedy, singing, and dancing.
A voluptuous humanoid-reindeer performing adaptations of Christmas songs is hardly an erotic performance. To claim that it is, can only be understood as a thinly veiled attempt to suppress LGBTQ expression. While some viewers may find the humor of drag performances offensive, this is not reason enough to restrict access to them.
The administrative threats that face the Hyatt Residency Miami and Plaza Live represent a clear danger to artistic freedom of expression, and mark the latest attempts on behalf of Florida public officials to suppress the LGBTQ community and its supporters.
Moreover, it’s clear that the State of Florida’s purported interest in protecting “parental rights” by banning LGBTQ books in public school classrooms and libraries does not extend to families who wish to experience and support extracurricular elements of LGBTQ culture. Such inconsistent applications reveal that Florida is only committed to protecting “parental rights” when the latter demands the suppression and erasure of LGBTQ communities and culture.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida
American Booksellers Association
Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston
The Authors Guild
Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Defending Rights and Dissent
The Dramatists Guild of America
The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund
Florida Freedom to Read Project
Online Policy Group / QueerNet
Oregon Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts
People for the American Way
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation