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Injunction blocking a Florida law targeting drag shows applies to all venues, judge says

Tampa Pride celebrations in 2022.
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Tampa Pride celebrations in 2022.

A federal judge said Wednesday that his order blocking a Florida law targeting drag shows doesn't just apply to the restaurant that brought the lawsuit challenging it but to other venues in the state, reiterating that the legislation championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis is likely unconstitutional.

A state agency that would enforce the law had asked U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell to put on hold his preliminary injunction stopping the law from being enforced until a trial is held to determine its constitutionality while the state of Florida appeals the injunction.

Attorneys for Florida told the judge that the preliminary injunction should only apply to the Orlando restaurant that sued seeking to get the law ruled unconstitutional and not “nonparties” to the complaint.

The judge rejected that argument, saying any harm to the state of Florida is minimal if the preliminary injunction remains in place, and that all Floridians are potentially parties since free speech is at stake.

“Plaintiff is not the only party suffering injury as a result of the passage of the Act; it has a chilling effect on all members of society who fall within its reach,” Presnell wrote in his order.

The complaint was brought by the owner of a Hamburger Mary’s restaurant and bar in Orlando, which regularly hosts drag shows, including family-friendly performances on Sundays that children were invited to attend. The restaurant owner said the law was overbroad, was written vaguely and violated First Amendment rights by chilling speech.

The new law punished venues for allowing children into “adult live performances.” Though it did not mention drag shows specifically, the sponsor of the legislation said it was aimed at those performances. Venues that violated the law faced fines and the possibility of their liquor licenses being suspended or revoked. Individuals could be charged with a misdemeanor crime.

Before announcing his candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, DeSantis made anti-LGBTQ+ legislation a large part of his agenda as governor. Other bills he signed would ban gender-affirming care for minors and restrict discussion of personal pronouns in schools.

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