Judge Temporarily Blocks Texas Law That Would Restrict Drag Shows

A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a new Texas law that would restrict drag shows, a victory for L.G.B.T.Q. groups that have criticized the measure as an attack against drag performers and organizers.

Judge David Hittner of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas wrote in his ruling that the law was unconstitutional because it violated First Amendment rights and that his decision would remain in effect for 14 days while he deliberates on a more permanent order.

If a permanent injunction is granted, the ruling would most likely be appealed by the state.

The law, S.B. 12, which was set to go into effect on Friday, seeks to “regulate sexually oriented performances,” which has been widely understood to mean drag shows, and to restrict those performances in front of minors. Republicans in the Texas Legislature who support the law said it would protect children from seeing drag shows.

In addition to criticism from L.G.B.T.Q. groups, the law has also faced pushback for being too broad in its language: It defines “sexual conduct” as the “representation, actual or simulated, of sexual acts.” Some critics wondered if touring Broadway plays, cheerleading routines and karaoke nights could also be affected by the law.

Businesses that host such performances could face a fine of up to $10,000, according to the law. It also would include criminal penalties, including up to a year in jail for artists and business owners who violate it. Paige Willey, a spokeswoman with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said in a statement on Thursday that Texans had been “appalled to learn of an increasing trend of obscene, sexually explicit so-called ‘drag’ performances being marketed to families with children.”

She said the Texas Attorney General’s Office would “pursue all legal remedies possible to aggressively defend S.B. 12., the state law that regulates such performances to protect children and uphold public decency.”

When Gov. Greg Abbott signed S.B. 12 into law in June, he shared an article on X, formerly known as Twitter, with the headline: “Texas Governor Signs Law Banning Drag Performances in Public.”

Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which, along with Baker Botts LLP, had filed the lawsuit against S.B. 12, argued in front of Judge Hittner in a two-day hearing that the measure would cause irreparable harm.

Brian Klosterboer, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of Texas, said in a statement that “this law was obviously unconstitutional from the day it was first proposed, and we are grateful that the court has temporarily blocked it.”

“If allowed to take effect, S.B. 12 will make our state less free, less fair and less welcoming for every artist and performer,” he said. “This temporary order is a much-needed reprieve for all Texans, especially our L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ and transgender community, who have been relentlessly targeted by our state legislature.”

Across the country, drag events have faced an uptick in protests and threats as conservatives have sought to limit the events in public and in the presence of children.

Texas is one of six states in the country that have passed laws intended to restrict drag or “adult” performances, according to Movement Advancement Project, which tracks legislation related to L.G.B.T.Q. issues.

In Tennessee and Florida, federal judges have temporarily blocked similar state laws.

Last week, a district judge in Texas moved to temporarily block enforcement of a law banning transgender minors in the state from receiving gender transition care, including puberty blockers and hormone treatments.

But almost immediately after the judge entered that ruling, the state attorney general’s office announced that it had appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, a step that would prevent the lower court’s injunction from taking effect, at least for now.

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