Free-Range Kids

Don't Call Child Services on Families Who Take Their Kids to Drag Shows

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis thinks drag shows represent "child endangerment."


On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) criticized a "family friendly" drag show  held at a gay bar in Dallas, Texas, and suggested that parents in attendance should be investigated by the authorities.

"That is totally inappropriate," said DeSantis. "That is not something children should be exposed to. And so, we probably, we may have the ability to deal with something like that if something like that happens."

The governor noted that Florida has laws against child endangerment, and suggested that kids at drag shows could be a matter for child protective services to investigate.

"We have child protective statutes on the books," said DeSantis. "We have laws against child endangerment."

Whether or not your idea of a great family outing is mimosas and chicken nuggets at a bar featuring a sign that says, "it's not going to lick itself" (surely they're talking about inflation?), what DeSantis seems to be considering is something that should disturb all parents.

Why? Because parental decision are always subjected to extreme scrutiny by the public: How dare she not breastfeed? He put a cookie in his son's lunch? Who bought that kid an accordion?

Parents are constantly judged by almost everyone else, which is why investigations should be triggered only when parents are putting their kids in obvious, serious, and likely danger—not just when they're being foolish, goofy, pushy, lazy, self-absorbed, or dumb. That includes most of us, at one time or another.

What's more, weaponizing CPS against someone you dislike is already a huge problem. We don't need the governor encouraging more of this. According to "Most States maintain toll-free telephone numbers for receiving reports of abuse or neglect. Reports may be made anonymously to most of these reporting numbers." That means jilted boyfriends, angry ex-wives, and vindictive neighbors can—and sometimes do—use CPS as their personal SWAT team.

This affects thousands of families every year. In my own state of New York, a recent study found that "seven percent of the roughly 150,000 reports to the Statewide Central Register each year are made by anonymous or unknown sources. These anonymous reports are 10 times less likely to be found credible."

Those calls add up to a lot of wasted time and money, and are awful for the families involved. Being subjected to a child welfare investigation is "terrifying," says my colleague Diane Redleaf, a longtime civil rights and family advocate.

"It gives a sense of shame," says Redleaf. "It changes your judgements about what you can and cannot do."

Kids old enough to realize that something is going on fear they could be taken from their parents. Their parents fear how easily that could happen. Even if all charges are ultimately dropped, an investigation can tear a family apart.

There's almost nothing more harmful you can do to a family than initiate a child abuse investigation. Unless you suspect actual, serious abuse is going on—not just an outing at a gay bar with a drag show—keep the cops out of other families' business.