Florida's War on Drag Targets Theater's Liquor License

Apparently, parents’ rights don’t extend to letting their kids listen to naughty Christmas lyrics.


Conservative government scolds in Florida are making good on a Christmas threat against an Orlando performance venue and are trying to revoke its liquor license because it let minors attend a bawdy drag show with their parents.

Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed an administrative complaint Friday against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation, which operates The Plaza Live theater in Orlando. In December, The Plaza Live hosted A Drag Queen Christmas, a touring stage show of risqué drag performances with holiday themes.

Florida officials responded to the show in a letter to the venue, saying that the show was "sexually explicit" and that "sexually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct" under state law if children are allowed to attend. It added that the venue could be punished and have its licenses to operate revoked.

The show went forward with a sign on the door of the venue that read, "While we are not restricting access to anyone under 18, please be advised some may think the context is not appropriate for under 18." Some parents did ultimately decide to bring children to the show. The state agency sent a representative to the show with a camera to take pictures of both the crowd and the event, and several photos are included in the complaint.

The complaint lists what the department sees as violations of state law, including "segments where performers engaged in acts of sexual conduct, simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays."

While that sounds extremely vivid, the photos included in the complaint show that the show's depictions were on a level of explicitness equivalent to those of an R-rated movie.

The complaint describes the performers exposing prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience, not actual genital nudity. The complaint claims that the performers exposed their buttocks, but the exhibits attached show the drag queens wearing thongs that are not unlike what you might see on a Florida beach. The complaint says the show simulated masturbation, but it was through the use of prosthetics, not actual sexual activity. One of the images shows a drag queen twerking on stage (wearing a thong) while on a screen at the back of the stage, an image is projected of a finger "penetrating" a Christmas wreath. Heck, this image arguably can be classified as PG-13.

Drag queen performing on state at "A Drag Queen Christmas."
(Photo exhibit from complaint from Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation )

From here, the allegations veer into what is quite clearly constitutionally protected First Amendment expression and performance. The department complains that the show included graphic depictions of "childbirth and/or abortions" and that the show included "sexually explicit themes and prurient content presented through sexualized adaptations of children's Christmas songs." The complaint includes a transcription of some of the song lyrics of "Screwdolph the Red-Nippled Reindeer," which starts, "You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Vomit and Stupid and Dildo and Dicks-in…."

For naughty Christmas lyrics, the state is threatening a business's liquor license. The complaint charges six counts of violating state indecency regulations, all based on allowing children to attend.

The scant photo evidence the state includes in the complaint further substantiates the claim that the war on drag queens is a politically driven moral panic. To the extent that the show is indeed sexual, as with any other form of entertainment with adult content, parents and venues are well-equipped to decide for themselves whether to bring their children. It's not a role the state should be deciding, and in so many other cases, the state does not.

Despite making a big deal about supporting parents' rights in education, Gov. Ron DeSantis does not think parents should have the right to decide what kind of entertainment their children should consume.

The governor's office provided a statement to the press that reads in part: "DeSantis stands to protect the innocence of children, and the governor always follows through when he says he will do something." That the governor's judgment is overriding the judgment of parents in this matter should be concerning to anybody who values individual liberty and the rights of parents to decide what their kids are ready to experience.