What Texas’ drag ban and restraining order could mean for the stars of Lubbock’s stages
A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Texas Senate Bill 12 on August 31.
Also known as the “drag ban bill,” SB 12 restricts “sexually oriented performances” on public property or in the presence of a minor.
The bill was passed on June 18 and set to go into effect on Sept. 1, but was temporarily blocked following a hearing with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Meaning it will not be enforced until a decision is made.
ACLU Texas sued the Texas Attorney General, among others, stating the bill is in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
One of the major issues with the bill, according to ACLU attorney Chloe Kempf, is its vagueness.
“The way that it is written could ensnare multiple types of performances,” Kempf explained. “We mention in our lawsuit that professional cheerleading could be implicated; traveling theater shows, concerts, even a karaoke night at a bar with friends could be swept up by this overly broad law.”
SB 12 criminalizes performers and could result in up to a year of jail time, while the civil penalties for establishments who host these performances is up to a $10,000 fine.
By criminalizing certain performances on public property, the bill also raises concerns for pride parades and festivals.
Dr. Nick Harpster, public relations and advocacy coordinator for LubbockPRIDE, described the bill as “a solution in search of a problem,” as most venues hosting drag performances that could be considered sexual are off limits anyway. But the bill’s broad language has left organizations and individuals in Lubbock, and across Texas, wondering how the law will be enforced and what exactly counts as sexual.
The bill’s definition of sexual conduct specifically cites “sexual gesticulations using accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics.”
This has raised questions for all kinds of performing arts, particularly concerning wigs, push-up bras, corsets, and what dances or motions would be considered inappropriate.
Lubbock Community Theatre’s executive director Heather May said with so many unknowns regarding the enforcement of the bill, organizations like hers are discussing how to protect themselves and their communities.
Lubbock Community Theatre has shows for all age brackets, but the bill has raised concerns for its season closer, Kinky Boots, a show that features drag and cabaret performers.
Kinky Boots is considered PG-13, according to May and to the Motion Picture Association’s standards for ratings, which LCT uses for determining what audiences are allowed at a performance.
“I think that bill does take the ability away from the parents to make that decision,” May said.
May said Kinky Boots is a story that needs to be told right now and falls in line with the theater’s mission of pushing conversation.
“It asks you to take a look at why a community might have a hard time accepting someone who’s different,” May said. “It does it in a fun way with dance and music and bright costumes and funny moments and all those things that make that conversation a little more palatable.”
Staff with Lubbock Community Theatre will continue to rate based on content and will not back down from its mission of inclusion.
“The goal is just to create art,” May said. “And that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Despite her worries about getting backlash when it comes to LCT’s choice in shows or casting, May has had no issue. She said the Lubbock community has a wide range of opinions, but at its heart is very friendly and open to conversation, which is what has allowed organizations like hers to thrive.
These bills impact more than just the LGBTQ+ community, said Nick Harpster, they erode First Amendment rights for all Texans. Something which he said has attracted more allies.
“People are starting to step up and say ‘this is affecting my life.’ This is affecting our organizations lives, our businesses,” Harpster said.
SB 12 is one in a number of laws this session that target members of the LGBTQ+ community, including transgender healthcare restrictions, transgender sports bans, and book bans, said ACLU attorney Chloe Kempf.
The temporary restraining order on SB 12 is set to last 14 days from the time it was issued, but according to Kempf, a ruling could be made before then, or the judge could extend the order another 14 days.
In his order, the judge said there “is a substantial likelihood” that the bill violates the First Amendment. If this is found to be true, Kempf said the law will likely be struck down.