Federal judge turns Ron DeSantis’ own law against him to block Florida drag ban

Ron DeSantis

A federal judge has placed a preliminary injunction on a drag ban championed by Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis in Florida.

In his ruling, US District Judge Gregory Presnell cited previous laws passed by Florida governor DeSantis as part of his reasoning for placing the injunction.

On Friday (23 June), Presnell sided with restaurant Hamburger Mary’s, which hosts drag performances and sued the Republican administration, claiming that the state’s drag ban – called the Protection of Children Act – violated their first amendment rights and unfairly harmed their business.

The Protection of Children Act was signed into law as part of a package of five anti-LGBTQ+ bills in May 2023, along with an expansion to the state’s Don’t Say Gay law, a ban on gender-affirming healthcare and restrictions on trans people’s rights to use public toilets and access to sports programmes.

The act means the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation can “fine, suspend or revoke the license” of any business that “admits a child to an adult live performance”, with individuals liable to be charged with a misdemeanour crime.

Florida’s drag ban is so vaguely-worded that it could prohibit some Shakespeare plays, pantomimes and the Rocky Horror Picture Show being performed. It has already resulted in Orlando’s Transformers convention, TFCon, being forced to offer refunds to attendees, as the state’s law means cosplayers cannot cross-dress where children might see it.

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Judge Parnell appeared to agree, ruling that the Florida government had failed to define the ban adequately to prevent unjust application. He also noted that the law didn’t define “live performances”, which could refer to “a skit at a backyard family barbecue”.

DeSantis’ own law was even cited against him in Parnell’s ruling, as the Protection of Children Act does not include an exception for parents who agree to their children seeing a drag performance.

The judge raised the issue of the drag ban’s “inevitable clash” with another piece of DeSantis-backed legislation – the Parents’ Bill of Rights.

The Parental Bill of Rights, signed into law by DeSantis in July 2021, states that “all rights are reserved to the parent of a minor child in this state” and they include the “right to direct the upbringing and the moral or religious training of his or her minor child”.

Judge Parnell wrote: “A fully clothed drag queen with cleavage-displaying prosthetic breasts reading an age-appropriate story to children may be adjudged ‘wicked’ – and thus ‘lewd’ – by some, but such a scenario would not constitute the kind of obscene conduct prohibited by [other statutes].”

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