Austin performer joins new lawsuit to block Texas drag performance law

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin-based drag performer added her name to a lawsuit filed Thursday aimed at blocking a Texas law that the plaintiffs argue would amount to a “drag ban” in the state.

Brigitte Bandit, the local drag artist, is among the plaintiffs now suing the interim Texas attorney general and other officials over Senate Bill 12, which is set to go into effect on Sept. 1. The other groups that filed the lawsuit are the ACLU of Texas, two community Pride organizations and a couple of drag performance companies, including Extragrams based in Austin.

According to a news release announcing the lawsuit, the ACLU of Texas called the law unconstitutional, arguing it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It also contends the law “threatens the livelihood and free expression of many Texans, including drag performers.”

“The law is written in a way that could censor a large number of constitutionally protected performances, from touring Broadway plays and professional cheerleading routines to karaoke nights and drag shows, anywhere that anyone under the age of 18 may be present,” the group’s statement read.

Bandit went viral in March after she testified against SB 12 during a Senate committee hearing while dressed in drag with a pink wig and a sparkly pink dress.

The defendants listed in the lawsuit include interim Attorney General Angela Colmenero, whom Gov. Abbott appointed last month to lead the office while Ken Paxton is suspended awaiting the outcome of the Senate impeachment trial. Travis County Attorney Delia Garza is also being sued along with the Bexar County district attorney, the Taylor County district attorney, The Woodlands Township, Montgomery County and the Montgomery County district attorney.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 12 on June 18 after mostly Republican lawmakers pushed the legislation through both chambers during the regular legislative session. However, the bill received significant pushback from advocates for the LGBTQ+ community and others over their concerns about it possibly criminalizing drag performances and venues that host shows in the state.

Before state lawmakers ultimately approved the legislation, they removed direct mentions of drag performances or gender non-conformity from the language. The bill initially filed by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, defined a “sexually oriented performance” to include “a male performer exhibiting as a female, or a female performer exhibiting as a male, who uses clothing, makeup, or other similar physical markers and who sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience.” However, that’s no longer in the final version adopted.

A “sexually oriented performance” is defined more broadly in the law now to be “the exhibition or representation, actual or simulated, of sexual acts, including vaginal sex, anal sex, and masturbation;” “the exhibition or representation, actual or simulated, of male or female genitals in a lewd state, including a state of sexual stimulation or arousal;” “the exhibition of a device designed and marketed as useful primarily for the sexual stimulation of male or female genitals;” “actual contact or simulated contact occurring between one person and the buttocks, breast, or any part of the genitals of another person;” and “the exhibition of sexual gesticulations
using accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics.”

A business owner who hosts such a performance in front of someone younger than 18 could face a fine up to $10,000, while a performer engaged in a sexually oriented performance “on public property at a time, in a place, and in a manner that could reasonably be expected to be viewed by a child” could get charged with a misdemeanor. Additionally, a city or a county “may not authorize a sexually oriented performance,” according to the law.

This is not the first lawsuit filed against legislation signed by the governor this year. Five Texas families with transgender children as well as three doctors are now suing the state to block Senate Bill 14, a law that would ban young people from receiving certain health care options and put medical licenses in jeopardy.

Two Texas bookstores also filed a lawsuit in hopes of blocking a state law from going into effect that would require sellers to rate books based on their sexual content and possibly result in the removal of titles from school library shelves.

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