Gov. DeSantis files a complaint about a Wynwood drag show performed in front of kids

·3 min read

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration filed a state complaint against Miami’s R House on Tuesday that says the Wynwood bar’s weekend Drag Show Brunches expose minors to “sexually explicit drag shows.”

“The nature of the performances described above, particularly when conducted in the presence of young children, corrupts the public morals and outrages the sense of public decency,” the complaint says in an argument accusing R House of disorderly conduct.

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R House ownership released a statement: “We are aware of the complaint and are currently working with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, through our attorney, to rectify the situation. We are hopeful that Gov. DeSantis, a vociferous supporter and champion of Florida’s hospitality industry and small businesses, will see this as what it is, a misunderstanding, and that the matter will be resolved positively and promptly.”

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The complaint was filed to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which is part of the DeSantis administration, by the agency’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

R House has 21 days to respond. It could lose its liquor license if judged to be in violation of local laws and codes.

And, that, DeSantis said, would “basically” put R House out of business.

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What is R House?

Most drag shows in Miami can be found at LGBTQ bars, but R House is unique in its business model. It is primarily a Latin-inspired restaurant that showcases several drag artist shows and DJ sets.

According to the restaurant’s website, it was founded by chef Rocco Carulli and his husband Owen Bale in 2014 as “part restaurant and part art gallery.” Eventually, the couple met renowned Miami drag queen Athena Dion and DJ Jody McDonald. The restaurant has been hosting drag shows along with serving dinner and brunch ever since.

The brunches have become so popular, that reservations need to be booked weeks in advance. Like most restaurants, there is no age requirement to sit at a table and R House’s website does not explicitly advertise the brunch as a kid-friendly event.

The brunch menu features a $30 kids meal that includes two items and soft drinks. (For adults, brunch is $55 per person.)

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State complaint cites viral video

After a July 3 video seen on social media and various websites showed a dancer with bare buttocks, breasts covered only in pasties and dollar bills in a g-string bottom leading a girl 3 to 5 years old around the restaurant, the complaint says the division learned that R House’s Drag Show Brunches have been running since at least 2017.

After that, the complaint reveals division investigators pulling up to the drag brunch on July 9, July 17 and July 23. Investigators also combed social media for Drag Brunch videos, several screenshots of which are included in the complaint.

One of the screenshots from social media videos in the state complaint filed against Wynwood’s R House over its Drag Brunch.
One of the screenshots from social media videos in the state complaint filed against Wynwood’s R House over its Drag Brunch.

Throughout the document, the complaint tries to juxtapose the show’s similarities to strip club performances with kids being welcome to attend (the Drag Brunch menu has an Under 12 section).

“Having kids involved in this is wrong and it 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,” DeSantis told reporters at a news conference in Tampa. “That is not the way you look out for our children. You protect children. You do not expose them.”

The state argued the “perfomances and simulated sexual activity — particularly when conducted in the presence of young children — constituted lewd activity and warrants revocation of respondent’s license,” according to the complaint.

It also believes the place should be “declared a nuisance,” citing precedent set by the Florida Supreme Court that recognizes that “‘men impersonating women’ in the context of ‘suggestive and indecent’ performances constitutes a public nuisance.”

“We want to make sure that we have a state and we have communities where kids can be kids,” DeSantis said.

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Miami Herald Reporter Devoun Cetoute contributed to this report.