HOUSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sued the Texas Attorney General and other defendants Wednesday to block the drag ban law, Senate Bill 12, from taking effect September 1. The organization represents plaintiffs The Woodlands Pride; Abilene Pride Alliance; Extragrams, LLC; 360 Queen Entertainment LLC; and Brigitte Bandit.
S.B. 12 is an unconstitutional law that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and threatens the livelihood and free expression of many Texans, including drag performers. The ban targets any performance that could be perceived as “sexual” and proposes criminal penalties, including up to a year in jail, for artists and others who support them.
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 plaintiffs challenging this law are two nonprofit LGBTQIA+ organizations in Texas that celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion in their communities; two drag production and entertainment companies that have already suffered negative impacts from the ban; and an Austin-based drag artist who performs, hosts, and produces drag events.
Quotes from litigation team and plaintiffs:
“The Texas Drag Ban is stunningly broad in scope and will chill entire genres of free expression in our state,” said Brian Klosterboer (he/him), attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “This law flies in the face of the First Amendment. No performer should ever be thrown in jail because the government disfavors their speech, and we are asking the Court to block this affront to every Texan’s constitutional rights.”
“Texas queens and kings from across our great state have been targets of threats and misinformation as a result of the anti-drag law,” said Brigitte Bandit (she/they), drag artist. “We must reject their attempts to divide us and continue to come together in our truth and power to support each other as Texans should. Our community will not be used as a scapegoat or a distraction by politicians who do not know who we are or what we do. State leaders should focus on legitimate issues, not political stunts. I dream of a state that’s better for us all, no matter who we are, how we live, or who we love. Long live Texas drag!”
Watch a video statement by Brigitte Bandit
“Censoring drag is censoring free speech,” said Jason Rocha (he/him), president at The Woodlands Pride. “The Woodlands Pride formed to help amplify the voices and representation of all, specifically the LGBTQIA+ community. Drag is a symbol of expression, and the freedom to express yourself is quintessential to human nature. We know this ban is aimed specifically at our community. Our freedoms to exist, express, and speak are at stake.”
“This legislation is yet another thinly veiled assault on the fundamental rights of LGBTQIA+ Texans,” said Gavyn Hardegree (they/them/theirs), president at Abilene Pride Alliance. “The prohibition on drag performances is aimed at marginalizing and excluding the LGBTQIA+ community from the public sphere. The law’s severe language not only endangers drag performers as well as trans and nonbinary individuals, but also local establishments that embrace diversity, including cherished Abilene venues hosting theatrical shows, community brunches, and the vibrant art of drag.”
Quotes from LGBTQIA+ organizations:
“Drag can be a source of healing for those who observe and those who participate,” said Verniss McFarland III (she/they), founder and executive director of The Mahogany Project. “Drag provides economic opportunities and a creative outlet to those who have endured life's adversities, systematic oppression, and denial of our nation's inalienable rights. Drag is also about reducing harm, preventing suicide, and preserving art. Drag offers a sustainable source of income for many LGBTQIA+ Texans as performers and small business owners. The truth is that drag is so many different things to so many different people. To take something away that manifests itself in the lives of many Texans in various ways could cause us unanticipated economic and personal damage.”
“With this attack on drag, anti-LGBTQIA+ extremists have demonstrated their determination to dictate their morality through a policy that centers and uplifts their beliefs over all others,” said Ricardo Martinez (he/him), CEO at Equality Texas. “When I last checked, Texas was a free state and we all had the right to determine our own values, and make our own decisions, so long as we weren’t harming others. This fear-mongering about the art of drag is meant to deprive us of our humanity and encourages vigilantism. Anti-LGBTQIA+ extremist lawmakers sensationalize drag performers and venues regardless of the threat to our safety to distract from their negligent leadership that is harming our communities. It is no surprise that Texas has reported the highest number of violent threats to drag performers, venues, and attendees in the country.”
“The goal of this law is to chip away at our freedoms and eventually erase queer and trans existence from the public sphere,” said Andrea Segovia (she/her), senior field and policy advisor with Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT). “Our community and our art will not be silenced or erased. Our community has fought too long to exist to let a drag ban stop us from challenging gender norms, celebrating our identities, and preserving queer culture. We applaud the tenacity and grit of the suit’s plaintiffs. The plaintiffs of this case demonstrate true Texas values by standing strong for queer and trans rights. We’re supporting them every step along the way.”