A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a Texas law that LGBTQ advocates feared would ban drag shows in the state and imprison performers.
The law, which Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed in June, expanded existing state law to prevent children from exposure to sexually explicit performances. While the legislation, Senate Bill 12, does not cite drag specifically, drag performers feared that it was passed with the intention of criminalizing the art form, which has deep ties to the LGBTQ community, and would that it repress their freedom of expression.
The bill’s statement of intent leads with and repeatedly cites drag shows as a threat to children. And on the day Abbott signed the bill into law, he shared an article about it and wrote, “Texas Governor Signs Law Banning Drag Performances in Public. That’s right.”
U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who was nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, writing that the law “impermissibly infringes on the First Amendment and chills free speech.”
“Not all people will like or condone certain performances,” Hittner wrote. “This is no different than a person’s opinion on certain comedy or genres of music, but that alone does not strip First Amendment protection.”
Hittner — who temporarily blocked the law from taking effect last month — added that the “chilling effect S.B. 12 will have on speech in general outweighs any hardship on the State of Texas.”
LGBTQ advocates and drag performers celebrated the ruling.
“LGBTQIA+ Texans, venue owners, performers, and our allies all came together to uphold free expression in our state — and we won,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “This work isn’t done but for now we celebrate. Long live Texas drag!”
Texas drag performer Brigitte Bandit, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement to NBC affiliate KXAN of Austin that she was “relieved and grateful for the court’s ruling.”
“My livelihood and community has seen enough hatred and harm from our elected officials,” Bandit said. “This decision is a much needed reminder that queer Texans belong and we deserve to be heard by our lawmakers.”
A spokesperson for State Attorney General Ken Paxton — the lead defendant in the case who was acquitted during a historic impeachment trial earlier this month — confirmed in a brief email late Tuesday evening that Paxton will appeal the ruling.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, also suggested after the ruling that legislators will again try to restrict drag performances in the state.
“#SB12, which restricts children from being exposed to drag queen performances, is about protecting young children and families,” Patrick wrote on X. “This story is not over.
Republican legislators in more than a dozen states are trying to restrict drag performances, particularly in the presence of minors.
Montana and Tennessee have passed laws that explicitly limit drag performances in some capacity, and four other states — Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota and Texas — passed laws this year that regulate “adult” performances and could be used to target or restrict drag, according to the LGBTQ policy think tank Movement Advancement Project. Tennessee’s drag law was similarly ruled unconstitutional this year, and the laws in Arkansas and Florida are not enforceable pending ongoing lawsuits.