Texas Bill Would Restrict Sexually Explicit Performances in Front of kids
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The Texas Legislature has given final approval to a bill on Sunday that will make it a crime for performers to partake in sexually explicit shows in front of children, as well as for any businesses that host such shows.
Initially designed to prohibit minors from attending specific drag shows, lawmakers agreed on revised bill language that eliminated direct mention of drag performers just before the deadline. The bill will now be sent to Governor Greg Abbott for his approval.
According to Senate Bill 12, business owners who host sexually explicit performances involving nudity or content that appeals to sexual interests will face a $10,000 fine. Performers who violate this proposed restriction could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
After a conference committee meeting between lawmakers from both chambers to reconcile the differences between their respective versions of the bill, the House and Senate released a revised version that expanded the sexual conduct definition within the penal code. The bill now includes the use of "accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics" along with sexual gestures as sexual conduct.
Advocates argue that this addition specifically targets drag queens’ props and costumes, indicating that lawmakers are still focusing on the LGBTQ community.
Representative Matt Shaheen, a Republican from Plano, amended the legislation in the House by removing explicit references to drag. Shaheen explained that members had seen videos of performances where children were exposed to "obscene, disgusting, inappropriate material." He stated that the updated bill addresses the concerns raised by those videos but did not specify which videos specifically concerned lawmakers.
Senator Bryan Hughes, a Republican from Mineola, authored SB 12 after a small but vocal group of activists and extremist organizations created anti-drag hysteria by filming drag shows and sharing the videos on social media. These groups considered all drag performances inherently sexual, regardless of their content or audience, which resonated with top Republican leaders in the state, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
Advocates argue that the revisions to the legislation still target drag performances, even if the bill does not explicitly mention them.
Brigitte Bandit, a drag performer based in Austin, criticized the inclusion of "accessories or prosthetics" in the bill. According to Bandit, drag artists who perform in front of children do not wear sexually explicit costumes. She believes that the bill causes confusion regarding what is considered acceptable at drag shows.
Bandit raised the question of whether wearing a padded bra would be considered enhancing sexual features. She argued that the bill is still ambiguous but is still primarily aimed at targeting drag performances, which has been its intention from the beginning.
Shaheen argued that referencing drag performers directly was unnecessary for the purpose of the bill, which is to prevent children from being exposed to sexually explicit material. He stated that the bill should cover inappropriate drag shows as well as situations where a stripper begins to perform in front of a child.
Representative Mary González, a Democrat from Clint, voiced her opposition to the bill on Sunday shortly before it received final approval in the House with an 87-54 vote. González criticized the removal of language that previously limited the bill’s enforcement to businesses only. She warned that the vague language of the bill could have far-reaching consequences.
González stated, "The broadness could negatively implicate even the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders… It can intrude into your homes and dictate what is allowed within your homes after the removal of the term ‘commercial enterprise.’"
During a House hearing on SB 12, Democrats raised concerns about whether the bill’s language might also affect restaurants like Twin Peaks that employ scantily clad servers. Shaheen clarified that the bill, as written, exempts these types of performances.
LGBTQ lawmakers praised the removal of the direct reference to drag performers. However, advocates worry that the phrase "prurient interest in sex" could be interpreted broadly since Texas law does not provide a clear definition of the term. Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas who testified against the bill, expressed these concerns during a House committee.
This content was initially published in The Texas Tribune, a news organization supported by its members, which aims to provide unbiased coverage and encourage the participation of Texans in state politics and policy. For further information, please visit texastribune.org.
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