AUSTIN – The Lone Star State stands on the precipice of implementing a host of unprecedented offences designed to preclude minors from being audience members at drag performances.
The bill has seen a late-stage proliferation of amendments, inciting a cascade of enquiries surrounding its application and sparking alarm amongst critics who postulate its potential to extend to at-home performances, impact cheerleaders, and infringe upon legal amorous relationships between 17-year-olds.
State Senator Bryan Hughes, hailing from Mineola, witnessed his Senate Bill 12 surmount its final legislative hurdle in the House on Sunday evening, with the successful vote tally reading 87-54. Notably, a handful of Democrats crossed party lines to side with the Republican majority. The legislation now heads to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk for approval.
In the aftermath of the vote, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a vocal advocate for the bill, issued a public statement highlighting the prohibition of “sexualized performances and drag shows in the presence of a minor.”
Should Governor Abbott sanction the legislation, acts deemed sexually provocative that arouse lewd interest, carried out in front of a minor or on public grounds, will face criminal charges. The working definition of “sexual conduct” has undergone an eleventh-hour expansion to incorporate “sexual gesticulations using accessories or prostheses that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics.”
Furthermore, the term “local” was expunged from the text, leading to uncertainty regarding the policing of such behaviours within the sanctity of private abodes.
Infringements could incur a Class A felony charge, attracting potential penalties of up to a year’s incarceration and a fine capped at $4,000. The venue in which the offences take place could also be slapped with a civil fine of up to $10,000.
Activists, frustrated at the sudden amendments after painstaking negotiation attempts, vented their ire. Ricardo Martinez, CEO of LGBTQ rights advocacy group Equality Texas, wryly commented on the paradox of lawmakers seemingly familiar with the intricacies of drag, despite their fervent opposition.
While the initial intention was to deter children from attending drag shows, the explicit references to performers of opposite gender roles were discarded by the House, replaced by a more comprehensive stance against improper behaviour in the presence of children.
Even so, the revised bill does not offer a clear definition of “sexual gestures,” leading legal professionals to anticipate difficulties in prosecution. Furthermore, it could unintentionally infringe on lawful sexual conduct between 17-year-olds.
Despite these ambiguities, the bill sailed through the House with minimal debate. Critics are swift to underscore the manufactured crisis, questioning the necessity of such a law. As the state waits for the Governor’s final decision, these concerns persist, illustrating the complexities and potential unintended consequences of this legislation.