DeSantis administration launches investigation into holiday drag show

Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) on Wednesday announced it was investigating a holiday-themed drag show in South Florida.

It said the department had received “multiple complaints” alleging a Dec. 26 performance of Drag Fans’ “A Drag Queen Christmas” was “sexually explicit” and “marketed to children.”

“The Department is actively investigating this matter, including video footage and photographs from the event,” said a statement from the department circulated by Bryan Griffin, a press secretary for DeSantis. “DBPR will, like in other cases, take action.”

The statement said that the department plans to share any evidence collected in its investigation with the state Department of Law Enforcement for criminal liability.

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the Fort Lauderdale venue that hosted the holiday drag performance at the center of the state’s investigation, may be at risk of losing its liquor license and its ability to operate as a business in Florida, the statement said.

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A spokesperson for the Broward Center said the venue as of late Wednesday afternoon had not been contacted by state officials.

According to the spokesperson for the Broward Center, admission to “A Drag Queen Christmas” on Dec. 26 was limited to patrons 18 years or older, unless accompanied by a parent.

To ensure viewers were aware of the adult themes and content of the show, ticket buyers were informed directly through a “Know Before You Go” message that is sent out via email in advance of most shows hosted by the Broward Center, the spokesperson said.

In a Wednesday email to the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation — the penultimate stop on the “A Drag Queen Christmas” tour — venue operators were warned by DBPR Secretary Melanie Griffin that minors should be barred from the upcoming performance, which is “of a sexual nature.”

“In short, if you allow children to attend the Drag Fans drag show at your facility, you are putting your license in jeopardy,” Griffin wrote in the email.

DBPR’s investigation is the latest in a series of steps taken by Republican leaders, including DeSantis, to crack down on drag performances accused of being sexually explicit and inappropriate for young audiences.

DeSantis in July filed a complaint against R House, a Miami restaurant, after it hosted a drag brunch event where children were present, citing a 1947 state Supreme Court ruling that “men impersonating women” in a “suggestive and indecent” fashion constitutes a public nuisance.

“Having kids involved in this is wrong,” DeSantis said during a press conference. “That is not consistent with our law and policy in the state of Florida, and it is a disturbing trend in our society to try to sexualize these young people.”

The efforts by DeSantis, a prospective GOP presidential candidate in 2024, and other Republican leaders in states across the country have also sparked fears of inciting acts of violence against the LGBTQ community.

Drag performances in particularly have come under threats.

No fewer than 124 drag performances have been targeted by direct threats this year, according to a recent report by GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization.

Efforts to crack down on drag performances have also moved forward in Texas and in Tennessee, where state Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R) late last month introduced a bill to include events with “male or female impersonators” and “adult cabaret performances” on a list of adult-oriented businesses prohibited from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks or places of worship.

Federal legislation unveiled in October by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) would prohibit federal dollars from being used to make “sexually-oriented” materials — including “any topic” related to sexual orientation or gender identity — available to children under the age of 10.

The bill is backed by more than 30 House Republicans and claims that state and federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, have previously used federal funds to promote and host “sexually-oriented events” such as drag queen story hours or burlesque shows for children and families.

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