Florida moves to bar children from attending ‘A Drag Queen Christmas’

Florida officials have moved to bar children from attending all performances of “A Drag Queen Christmas,” adding to a growing national backlash against the “all-ages” touring show’s sexualized content.

In a cease-and-desist letter shared with The Washington Times, Florida Secretary of Business and Professional Regulation Melanie S. Griffin threatened to revoke Ruth Eckerd Hall’s liquor license if anyone under 18 attended a Thursday night performance in Clearwater.

“Sexually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct when minors are in attendance,” Ms. Griffin wrote, citing state ordinances.

Viral social media videos have sparked a growing pushback this month against the annual production, which is touring 18 states with performers from the reality television show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The performance recordings depict nude prosthetic body parts, simulated sex acts and a character named “Screwdolph the Red Nippled Reindeer.”

Ms. Griffin said the performances have been “marketed to and attended by minors, including young children.”

“If minors are allowed to attend this drag show, the Department will take any and all actions available to ensure that you do not pose a threat to minors in the future,” she wrote in her letter.

Reached for comment by telephone on Thursday, a spokeswoman for Ruth Eckerd pledged to heed the warning.

“The only thing I can tell you is our show is for people 18 years and older, period, and we are checking IDs,” said Katie Pedretty, Ruth Eckerd public relations director.

Protests against “A Drag Queen Christmas” started sweeping the nation last week in response to viral videos of a recent show in Austin, Texas.

Independent journalist Tayler Hansen recorded the Austin show and shared video highlights on Twitter.

As the protests spread, a concert venue in the suburbs of St. Louis barred children from attending another performance last Wednesday night.

The Factory in Chesterfield announced hours before the show that no ticket holders under 18 would be allowed to attend. Mayor Bob Nation promised to refund the money of any children who bought tickets.

The Clearwater performance on Thursday night marks the third show this week in Florida.

On Monday night in Fort Lauderdale, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts allowed children to attend a day-after-Christmas show with parental accompaniment.

The office of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said it was investigating the production after receiving complaints that the Fort Lauderdale performance exposed children to “sexualized acts.”

On Wednesday night, hundreds of protesters and counter-protesters gathered outside of a theater in Orlando to protest another performance.

Bryan Griffin, a spokesman for Mr. DeSantis, said he could not confirm whether small children attended those performances.

“Those specific questions would be well answered by good investigative journalism,” Mr. Griffin said in an email Thursday. “The department will complete its investigation and act accordingly. Stay tuned.”

He said the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation also sent a cease-and-desist letter to The Plaza Live, which hosted the Orlando show.

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts defended admitting children with parental supervision to Monday’s show, noting it added an adult content advisory to its website.

“To ensure patrons were aware of the adult themes and content in the show, this information was on the website and ticket purchase page,” the Center said in a statement emailed to The Times. “All ticket buyers were also informed directly through a ‘Know Before You Go’ email, a customer communication that is sent out in advance of most shows. As of today, we have not been contacted by state officials regarding an investigation.”

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, the city’s first openly gay mayor, dismissed the investigation as a political stunt.

“It’s entertainment — and that’s how it needs to be viewed,” Mr. Trantalis told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I’m told the event organizers had signs posted at all the entryways saying it was an adult show for 18 years and older unless they were with a parent. Now you can’t deny parents from bringing a child in there.”

But adult content warnings are new for a production that long advertised itself as family friendly, said Gregory T. Angelo, president of the conservative New Tolerance Campaign.

“Going from ‘all-ages’ show to 18-plus is one helluva swing,” said Mr. Angelo, who is gay and a former head of the Log Cabin Republicans LGBTQ group. “The fact that the venue edited the disclaimer is the tell. Management clearly knew the show wasn’t appropriate for ‘all ages.’”

Florida’s crackdown on “A Drag Queen Christmas” comes amid intensifying protests against “family-friendly” drag shows, which critics say sexualize young children.

Drag events advertising themselves as “family friendly” have sparked 141 protests in 47 states this year, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) reported on Dec. 16.

Lawmakers in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, Tennessee and Texas have filed or discussed legislation to ban drag shows for children in response to the protests.

Some faith leaders warned Thursday that the protests could give unintentional publicity to performances of “A Drag Queen Christmas.”

“If you don’t like them, the best thing to do is ignore them,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and senior analyst at Religion News Service. “I think it’s appropriate to treat them like an R-rated movie and let the parents decide.”

But this analogy isn’t perfect, said former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, a vice president at the conservative Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.

“Unlike all-ages drag shows, R-rated movies don’t pretend or claim they’re ‘family friendly,’” Mr. Bauer said in a phone interview. “Americans instinctively react against ‘A Drag Queen Christmas’ and similar shows because they are instinctively beyond the pale.”

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