Drag show restaurant files federal lawsuit against Florida, Gov. DeSantis

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:
Anti-drag show signs outside the Naples City Council meeting on August 15. (Credit: WINK News)

A popular Orlando restaurant that regularly features drag shows filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday, less than a week after he signed a bill that targets drag performances.

The lawsuit filed in Orlando federal court by the owner of Hamburger Mary’s Orlando claims the state is depriving the business of its First Amendment rights to free expression. The restaurant is asking the court to temporarily stop the law from taking effect while the case moves forward.

DeSantis has made anti-LGBTQ+ legislation a large part of his agenda as he prepares to seek the Republican presidential nomination. He signed the bill restricting drag performances — along with bills that ban gender-affirming care for minors, restrict discussion of personal pronouns in schools and force people to use certain bathrooms — last Wednesday in front of a cheering crowd at the evangelical Cambridge Christian School in Tampa.

Hamburger Mary’s Bar & Grille has more than a dozen locations around the U.S., with the Orlando restaurant opening in 2008. According to the lawsuit, the restaurant had hosted “family-friendly” drag shows on Sundays, but the new Florida law is forcing them to ban children from all shows. This has led to a 20% drop in Sunday bookings.

Proponents of the legislation have said the law is meant to keep children from viewing sexually explicit performances. Lawyers for the business argue the new law is so broad and vague that it could be applied to almost any performance that involves a man dressing up like a woman, even if the performance isn’t sexual in nature. The lawsuit said the business owners can’t risk having their business or liquor licenses suspended or risk facing criminal prosecution by allowing children at the shows.

The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment about the lawsuit.

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