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Texas Senate panel debates measure that would prohibit drag performances in front of minors

Cynthia Lee Fontaine performs in front of the crowd rallied outside the Texas Capitol steps to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation on March 20, 2023 in Austin, Texas.
Alyssa Olvera
Cynthia Lee Fontaine performs in front of the crowd outside the Texas Capitol on Monday to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Bobby Pudrido started performing in drag seven months ago.

“I have been wanting to perform for a long time,” Pudrido told The Texas Newsroom on Thursday. “I saw a drag king troupe … and I auditioned and got in and then people started booking me.”

On Wednesday, Pudrido was done performing at 11 p.m.

But that didn’t stop him from waking up early Thursday, putting on his sparkly suit and painting a beard before heading for the state Capitol for the first time in his life.

He was there to speak out against a measure making its way through the Texas Senate that would designate drag shows as “sexually oriented performances” and would ban them from occurring in front of minors.

“Sexualizing drag is also saying that being trans is inherently sexual,” Pudrido said. “So, when I step out of my home in or out of drag, if this bill does pass, I’m essentially breaking the law.”

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, told the Senate Committee on State Affairs on Thursday that Senate Bill 12 — which he sponsored — is in response to what he described as “sexually oriented performances” moving into public spaces.

“Drag shows are sexually explicit and expose children to issues of sexuality and identity that should be reserved for adults,” he told the panel.

Hughes added his legislation was not intended to “stop theatrical or other shows.” But he conceded it would have further reach than just drag performances.

“Drag shows today may be replaced by other types of harmful performances in the future, and SB 12 applies to all,” Hughes said.

The proposal is one of a slew of bills in the Texas Legislature that target people in the LGBTQ+ community. The measures include bans on gender-affirming care and restrictions on college athletes who are transgender.

It’s also part of a larger trend of Republican-controlled legislatures across the country that have become increasingly focused on drag performances.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recently signed into law a bill that bans drag shows from public properties. It would also prohibit the events from taking place in front of minors.

Florida is considering similar legislation.

In addition to SB 12, the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs on Thursday debateda measure that “would deny state funding to municipal libraries that host drag story hours or otherwise host events where persons presenting as the opposite sex read books to children for entertainment.”

Both bills were left pending, something customary by the Senate Committee on State Affairs. The panel tends to vote on legislation at a meeting following the initial hearing.

Mary Elizabeth Castle, the director of government relations at the conservative organization Texas Values, said she was afraid kids would be exposed to sexual content at too young an age, citing examples that have been published as stories on right-leaning websites.

She said she supports ending drag queen story hours and drag performances in public spaces.

“It’s exposing kids to very sexual content at an early age,” she said.

Brigitte Bandit, a drag performer based in Austin, told The Texas Newsroom that drag is like any other art form — sometimes it’s not appropriate for children.

But she said drag can be tailored to a younger audience.

“We don’t want kids at the gay bar at 11 p.m. on a Friday night,” Bandit said. “But we do want to be able to hold our drag queen story times that are intentionally modified for children.”

Bandit’s perspective is somewhat unique — she’s a drag performer who was assigned female at birth.

According to the bill, a “sexually oriented performance” includes “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; and appeals to the prurient interest in sex.”

“This bill is discriminatory based on sex,” Bandit said. “That’s my argument … if this were to be enforced, you would not be able to get me because I’m simply a very flamboyant woman.”

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