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Judge blocks a Florida law that would punish venues where kids can see drag shows

The popular restaurant chain Hamburger Mary's, which features drag waitresses and family-friendly drag performances, has won a legal battle after filing a lawsuit against Florida's drag show ban. The chain's Orlando, Fla., restaurant is seen on June 13.
Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda
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Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
The popular restaurant chain Hamburger Mary's, which features drag waitresses and family-friendly drag performances, has won a legal battle after filing a lawsuit against Florida's drag show ban. The chain's Orlando, Fla., restaurant is seen on June 13.

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the enforcement of a new Florida law aimed at prohibiting children from attending drag shows after a popular burger restaurant that hosts the shows sued the state of Florida and its governor, Ron DeSantis.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell issued a preliminary injunction on Saturday in response to the lawsuit filed last month by Hamburger Mary's. The Orlando restaurant's owners allege in the suit that their First Amendment rights were violated after DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1438 into law. The measure would prohibit admitting children to certain drag show performances.

"This statute is specifically designed to suppress the speech of drag queen performers," Presnell wrote. "In the words of the bill's sponsor in the House, State Representative Randy Fine: '...HB 1423...will protect our children by ending the gateway propaganda to this evil – 'Drag Queen Story Time.' "

The judge's ruling will pause the "Protection of Children" law, which prohibits children from attending any "adult live performance."

An "adult live performance" is described in the law as "any show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience which, in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities ... or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts."

Businesses or persons who are found in violation of the law could face prosecution, in addition to thousands of dollars in fines and having their business licenses revoked.

Republican Florida state Sen. Clay Yarborough, the bill's sponsor, did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment on the temporary injunction.

Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis' press secretary, called the judge's opinion "dead wrong" and added that the governor's office is looking forward to winning an appeal.

"Of course, it's constitutional to prevent the sexualization of children by limiting access to adult live performances," Redfern said in a statement to NPR.

The owners of Hamburger Mary's said in a statement posted on Facebook that they're happy that Presnell sees that the state's new law is "an infringement on First Amendment Rights."

"I encourage people to read the court's injunction, every page, and understand the case, and put the politics and fear-mongering aside," the statement added.

Last month, DeSantis signed into law a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, restrictions on discussion of "preferred pronouns" in schools and restrictions on using bathrooms that don't match one's assigned sex at birth.

In 2022 alone, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed during state legislative sessions and 29 of those bills were signed into law.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.