Featured Cases: Challenges to Drag Show Bans in Florida, Tennessee, and Utah

June 24, 2023

A person in drag looks directly at the camera.  The person is visible from the shoulders up, and is wearing a purple wig, sparkly earrings, and a black ruffled color.

In February 2023, Tennessee enacted House Bill 0009, which made it a criminal offense to perform “adult cabaret entertainment” on public property or in a location that could be viewed by minors. Friends of George’s, a theater company from Memphis, Tennessee, filed two now-consolidated lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee to challenge this ban on drag performances. The law, which was set to take effect on April 1, 2023, had caused multiple LGBTQ+ organizations to cancel drag performances because of risks to their performers. Friends of George's argued that the ban violated the First Amendment. On March 31, 2023, the court granted a temporary restraining order enjoining enforcement of the statute.  After a bench trial in May 2023, the court declared the statute unconstitutional and permanently enjoined enforcement, entering judgment for the plaintiffs. Read more here

And in June 2023, a federal court in Utah issued a preliminary injunction directing the City of St. George, Utah, to issue a special events permit to Southern Utah Drag Stars permitting the organization to host a family-friendly drag show in the city.  The court found that the organization had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of its claims that prior denial of its permit, and the City's subsequent moratorium on issuance of special events permits and prohibition on events advertising, violated the First Amendment and constituted unlawful discrimination.  Read more here

Also in June 2023, a federal court in Florida preliminary enjoined the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation from enforcing Florida Statute 827.11, which prohibited knowingly admitting a child to an "adult live performance," including a drag show.  The court reasoned that the plaintiff, a restaurant and bar that sometimes hosted drag shows, had sufficiently shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its claim that the Act was not sufficiently narrowed to the state's asserted purpose of protecting minors, and that it was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.  Read more here