A new bill tabled in the Texas House of Representatives this week aims to introduce new restrictions on public drag performances – but its broad language has far-reaching implications for transgender people across the state.
HB 643, introduced by Republican Rep. Jared Patterson, would expand the state’s definition of a “sexually oriented business” to include any venue that serves alcohol and hosts a “drag performance.” A “drag performance” is when “a performer displays a gender identity different from the sex assigned to the performer at birth, by using clothing, makeup or other physical markings, and in front of an audience sings, lip-syncs, dances, or otherwise performs for entertainment.”
So yes, that definition certainly covers the basic concept of drag – but it also seems to apply to any trans person who “performs” at an alcohol-licensed venue. To host musical performances, sports teams, theatrical performances (particularly Shakespeare), pro-wrestling, or any other type of show featuring a transgender person “for an audience of two or more people,” such businesses would agree, as “sexually oriented businesses” and as to regulate such. Under Texas law, this comes with restrictions such as an additional fee of $5 per admitted customer, payable quarterly to the state — and a complete ban on visiting anyone under the age of 18, violation of which is a Class A misdemeanor.
Patterson, whose brilliant ideas in the past include banning all minors from social media, is also one of the lawmakers driving Texas Republicans’ anti-LGBTQ+ book ban agenda. In March, he penned a letter signed by 26 other Republicans asking all school districts to pledge not to buy books from retailers that sell LGBTQ+-themed books — like Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir — which he called “obscene” and “pornographic”. He then specifically urged the Frisco Independent School District to remove 28 such books from its libraries, five of which have now been removed; Patterson appealed the remaining 23 in October, including George M. Johnson’s All boys are not blue, which has become a focus of his crusade.
“Rep. Patterson and his co-signers do not protect students from obscene and explicit content,” the National Coalition Against Censorship said in a statement rebuking Patterson’s March letter. “They censor books and deny students the comprehensive education that is essential to maintaining a healthy democracy.”
Just as book bans aren’t about “protection” at all, HB 643 isn’t about protecting children from inappropriate or sexual content, but rather about a chilling curtailment of trans people’s freedom to exist and work. Similar to other Republican anti-trans legislation, the language of the bill appears to be intentionally vague to allow as much latitude in its enforcement as possible. It’s just another volley in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s war on trans people and their families while Republicans seek to quash gender expression in any way they can.
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