HOUSTON — A federal judge in the Southern District of Texas today ruled the state’s drag ban, Senate Bill 12, is unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction blocking the legislation from becoming law.
The ruling stops the Texas attorney general and other government officials from enforcing any provisions of the ban. Before issuing this permanent injunction, the court previously issued a temporary restraining order, which prevented the law from going into effect September 1.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Baker Botts LLP filed the lawsuit in August on behalf of the plaintiffs: The Woodlands Pride, Abilene Pride Alliance, Extragrams LLC, 360 Queen Entertainment LLC, and drag performer Brigitte Bandit.
In a consolidated injunction hearing and trial on the merits on August 28 and 29, the plaintiffs testified how S.B. 12 threatens their livelihoods, censors their freedom of expression, and vilifies an art form that has roots going back millennia.
Quotes from the litigation team:
“Today’s ruling blocks a law that threatens some of the most cherished First Amendment freedoms we all hold dear,” said Chloe Kempf (she/her), attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “S.B. 12 attempts to suppress drag artists and the LGBTQIA+ community, and its steep criminal and civil penalties would harm Black and Latinx transgender Texans the most. As the court recognized, S.B. 12 is also vague, overbroad, and chills entire genres of performances that are not obscene or inappropriate, from high school Shakespearean plays to the Nutcracker ballet to the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.”
“I’m glad that the court recognized the constitutional rights of our clients, drag performers, and their patrons, and protected their rights to freely express an art form particularly important to LGBTQ+ people,” said Brandt Thomas Roessler (he/him), senior associate at Baker Botts LLP. “Baker Botts is proud of its continuing commitment to pro bono work, including the advocacy of LGBTQ+ civil rights.”
Quotes from the plaintiffs:
“I am relieved and grateful for the court’s ruling,” said Brigitte Bandit (she/they), drag performer. My livelihood and community has seen enough hatred and harm from our elected officials. This decision is a much needed reminder that queer Texans belong and we deserve to be heard by our lawmakers.”
“This legal victory affirms the innate rights of all LGBTQIA+ Texans to freely express themselves through the transformative and vibrant art of drag,” said Gavyn Hardegree (they/them), Abilene Pride Alliance President. “It’s a bold testament to the enduring spirit of diversity and inclusion, reinforcing the idea that every person is entitled to celebrate their identity without fear of prejudice and discrimination. As we stand on this milestone, we not only celebrate a legal victory but a triumph of love over fear, of understanding over ignorance, and of unity over division, ushering in a brighter, more tolerant, and vibrant future for all Texans.”
“Drag is not a crime, art is not a crime, speech is not a crime; and we’re glad the court recognized that,” said Jason Rocha (he/him), president of The Woodlands Pride. “We share this victory with the other plaintiffs, the LGBTQIA+ community, the ACLU of Texas, and all those who value the freedom of expression and speech. The Woodlands Pride was founded in 2018 to bring awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues to the suburban and rural areas. As we celebrate our 5th anniversary, we are part of a statewide effort that blocked a bill that targeted drag and the LGBTQIA+ community.”
“Today the law is on our side,” said Richard Montez (he/him), co-owner of 360 Queen Entertainment. “I am overjoyed by the court's decision to strike down S.B. 12. Personally, it means that my business can continue to bring drag to audiences and to the LGBTQIA+ community. This decision offers a ray of hope during a time that has otherwise been difficult and dark.”
“This win helps to bring back the joy and acknowledges the integrity and professionalism of this fabulous art form,” said Kerry Lynn (she/her), founder and creative services director of Extragrams. “This has been a traumatic year for drag performers and supporting businesses — and this win means that we can breathe a sigh of relief and make steps towards healing. The damage that S.B. 12 has caused is something that we’ll be dealing with the residual effects of for a while. But today, we celebrate being able to move forward continuing to provide arts and entertainment without fear of prosecution.”
Quotes from Texas LGBTQIA+ organizations:
“The staff and team at The Mahogany Project are delighted to know that the art of drag remains a cherished and recognized cornerstone of American culture,” said Verniss McFarland III (she/they), founder and executive director of The Mahogany Project. “The First Amendment rights of Americans have been upheld, ensuring that our local entertainers can continue to pursue their passions and dreams. In doing so, they contribute to a rich legacy that enriches and adds depth to our community. Our community and its leaders remain committed to safeguarding the art form of drag and supporting our entertainers. While today's outcome is a victory, we will persist in opposing any bills, policies, or legislation that threaten the beauty and essence of our community, especially when it concerns those who give so much yet ask for so little in return.”
“Drag performers aren’t using taxpayer money to support their real estate developer cronies; they aren’t using burner phones to hide their affairs; they aren’t punishing staff who speak out against them. Yet, drag performers are the ones that the Texas Senate decided to put out of a job?” said Ricardo Martinez (he/him), CEO at Equality Texas. “We should all be worried about why some Texas politicians want to control which doctors we see, what stories can be told in schools, and which performers have the right to practice their art. Lawmakers tried to use drag as a scapegoat to chip away at our First Amendment rights and we’re glad the court isn’t going to allow that to happen.”
“We’re happy to see today's outcome," said Emmett Schelling (he/him), executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “This is a win for queer artists that are at the forefront of what it’s like to use art to challenge gender norms and expectations, but ultimately, today is a win for trans and gender expansive Texans. Today, we celebrate this win and we’ll be right back tomorrow fighting for a world where everyone in our community is able to express their gender without the fear of persecution and hate.”
Access a copy of the Order and Permanent Injunction here: https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/order_and_permanent_injunction.pdf
Access a copy of the lawsuit here: https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/1pltfs_complaint.pdf