A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a new Texas law that would restrict drag shows, a victory for LGBTQ groups who have criticized the measure as an attack on drag performers and organizers.
Judge David Hittner of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas wrote in his ruling that the law was unconstitutional because it violated First Amendment rights and that his ruling would remain in effect for 14 days while he deliberates on a more permanent order.
If a permanent injunction is granted, the state will most likely appeal the decision.
The law, SB 12, which was due to take effect on Friday, aims to “regulate sex shows,” which has been widely understood to be drag shows, and to restrict such shows in front of minors. Republicans in the Texas Legislative Assembly who support the law said it would prevent children from attending drag shows.
In addition to criticism from LGBTQ groups, the law has also been criticized for its overly broad language: it defines “sexual conduct” as the “representation, real or simulated, of sexual acts.” Some critics wondered if touring Broadway plays, cheerleading routines and karaoke nights might also be affected by the law.
Companies that put on such shows could be fined up to $10,000, according to the law. It would also include criminal penalties, including up to a year in prison for artists and business owners who violate this law.
The Texas attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to an email Thursday seeking comment.
When Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 12 into law in June, he shared an article about Xformerly known as Twitter, with the caption: “Texas Governor Signs Law Banning Public Drag Shows”.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which along with Baker Botts LLP had filed a lawsuit against SB 12, argued before Judge Hittner in a two-day hearing that the measure would cause irreparable harm.
Brian Klosterboer, attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement that “this law was blatantly unconstitutional from the day it was first proposed, and we are grateful that the court temporarily blocked it.”
“If allowed to go into effect, SB 12 will make our state less free, less fair, and less welcoming to every artist and performer,” he said. “This temporary order is a well-deserved respite for all Texans, especially our LGBTQIA+ and transgender community, who have been relentlessly targeted by our state legislature.”
Across the country, drag events have faced an upsurge in protests and threats, with conservatives seeking to limit events in public and in the presence of children.
Texas is one of six states in the country to pass laws intended to restrict drag or “adult” shows, according to the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks legislation relating to LGBTQ issues.
In Tennessee and Florida, federal judges have temporarily blocked similar state laws.
Last week, a Texas district judge moved to temporarily block enforcement of a law barring transgender minors in the state from receiving gender transitional care, including puberty blockers and hormone treatments.
But almost immediately after the judge made that ruling, the state attorney general’s office announced that it had appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, a move that would prevent the lower court’s injunction from taking effect, At least for the moment.