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Texas bill would let people sue drag queens who perform in front of minors

A person in drag makes a surprised expression while holding up a fan in front of people seated at tables
Gabriel C. Pérez
Drag queen Maxine LaQueene performs for customers at a drag brunch in Austin last year.

A Republican lawmaker is seeking to restrict drag performances in Texas by pushing for a bill that would allow people to sue those who perform in drag in front of a minor.

House Bill 4378 was filed by Rep. Steve Toth, R-Woodlands, on Friday. If passed by the Texas Legislature, it would allow someone to bring legal action against people in drag if they attend an event as a minor "in which a performer exhibits a gender that is different from the performer’s gender recorded at birth.”

Johnathan Gooch, communications director of the LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Texas, said the scope of the proposal makes it very dangerous.

“The language is so broad that traditional theater venues, productions of Shakespeare, all kinds of plays where a trans performer or even a cis performer is acting out a role that involves cross dressing would also be on the chopping block,” Gooch said.

The text of the bill defines a drag performance as “performance in which a performer exhibits a gender that is different than the performer's gender recorded at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs in a lascivious manner before an audience.”

The measure has a 10-year statute of limitations, and successful plaintiffs could be awarded $5,000 in damages.

Toth declined an interview with The Texas Newsroom on Tuesday morning. His office didn't reply to a detailed list of questions regarding the measure.

This is not the only bill targeting drag shows — a different bill before the Texas Legislature would classify drag performances as sexually oriented businesses and make host venues pay additional taxes.

However, HB 4378 is noteworthy for how it’s written, Gooch said. It empowers children — as well as their guardians — to sue to shut down drag performances.

“Where is the limit to what they are trying to impose?” Gooch asked. “In some ways, it's very much a gender police where lawmakers are imposing their own ideas about what gender should look like on performers across the state.”

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas, told The Texas Newsroom the legislation is a clear violation of the First Amendment.

“It is part of a wave of political attacks against LGBTQIA+ Texans where the government threatens to ban life-saving health care, censor our identities, and ban artistic expression that has existed since the days of Shakespeare,” Klosterboer said in a statement.

“This bill is also nonsensical in how it goes far beyond drag shows to create a statewide gender police and limitless lawsuits for any type of performer who defies gender stereotypes," he added.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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