It's true that a bill criminalizing what it describes as “sexually oriented performances” in front of children, as well as venues that host such performances, was passed on May 28, 2023. The bill was originally conceived to restrict minors from attending drag performances, but was amended to remove all explicit references to drag performances. Despite the change in language, drag performers still feared this legislation would target them.
On May 28, 2023, the Texas legislature passed the final draft of a bill criminalizing "sexually oriented performances" in front of children, as well as businesses that host such performances. Many drag performers expressed fear that the bill would target them, as it appeared to be part of a broader effort in the state to crack down on drag shows and limit the rights of LGBTQ people.
Indeed, many headlines about the bill claimed that it specifically banned drag shows.
Well Texas … really devastated about this bill . Very disappointed. But we will continue fighting ! This is not over! We are not criminals ! pic.twitter.com/HRfr3Chrae
— Cynthia Lee Fontaine 🍑 (@lee_fontaine) May 29, 2023
But while the bill was originally intended to do so, the final version did not explicitly mention "drag performances" or "drag shows," according to the Texas Tribune. The bill was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott on May 28 for signing.
As written, the legislation grants the state authority to "regulate sexually oriented performances and to restricting those performances on the premises of a commercial enterprise, on public property, or in the presence of an individual younger than 18 years of age; authorizing a civil penalty; creating a criminal offense." One amendment to the bill classifies as "sexual conduct" the use of "accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics."
These were the definitions of "sexual conduct" in the final bill:
(A) the exhibition or representation, actual or simulated, of sexual acts, including vaginal sex, anal sex, and masturbation;
(B) the exhibition or representation, actual or simulated, of male or female genitals in a lewd state, including a state of sexual stimulation or arousal;
(C) the exhibition of a device designed and marketed as useful primarily for the sexual stimulation of male or female genitals; or
(D) actual contact or simulated contact occurring between one person and the buttocks, breast, or any part of the genitals of another person; or
(E) the exhibition of sexual gesticulations using accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics.
Advocates for LGBTQ rights argue that the amendment focusing on accessories targets drag performers, who frequently rely on props and costumes.
The Associated Press and Texas Tribune both reported that an earlier version of the bill explicitly referenced drag shows, and was intended to bar children from attending such performances. While references to drag shows were later removed, the bill expanded the scope of what could be termed as illegal.
Rep. Matt Shaheen, a lawmaker behind the bill, reported that lawmakers watched videos of children exposed to performances with "lewd, disgusting, inappropriate stuff." He did not specify the exact content of the videos, but said the updated bill addressed what they contained.
He said that direct references to drag shows were not the real intent of the bill, but preventing children from seeing sexually explicit content was. "You want it to cover inappropriate drag shows, but you [also] want it to cover if a stripper starts doing stuff in front of a child," Shaheen said.
Written by Sen. Bryan Hughes, the version of the bill passed by the Senate earlier in the month had language explicitly targeting sexually explicit drag shows, saying such performances included those who were naked or dressed in drag, and "[appealed] to the prurient interest in sex." The older text stated that a sexually oriented performance included, "a male performer exhibiting as a female, or a female performer exhibiting as a male, who uses clothing, makeup, or other similar physical markers and who sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience." As the bill moved to the House in mid-May, Shaheen removed the above references to drag and broadened the scope of the legislation.
"There is a growing trend to expose children to more and more sexual content," Shaheen said. "These types of performances were once reserved for sexually oriented businesses, but now they're occurring in restaurants and other public venues while children are present." He referenced a drag show for children that took place in his district that he described as inappropriate.
The LGBTQ Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives approved the removal of language referencing drag performers on May 19, 2023, writing:
The Texas House LGBTQ Caucus is always committed to fighting for LGBTQIA+ Texans. SB 12, a bill that originally targeted drag performances in public places and in front of children was passed to third reading today with amended language. We acknowledge and approve the removal of the bill's language that would have banned drag performances under certain circumstances. [...] To ensure that directly anti-LGBTQIA+ and anti-drag language is not reinserted into the bill, we will continue to monitor SB 12's movement through the Texas Legislature and its implementation if the Governor signs it into law.
However, Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag performer, said drag artists did not dress in sexually explicit costumes in front of children, and the bill's vagueness created confusion about what was considered acceptable at drag shows.
"Is me wearing a padded bra going to be [considered] enhancing sexual features?" Bandit said to the Texas Tribune. "It's still really vague but it's still geared to try to target drag performance, which is what this bill has been trying to do this entire time, right?"
Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas said, "We believe it's a wolf in sheep's clothing that's still designed to target drag and the LGBTQ+ community." He pinpointed the House's analysis of the bill that referenced a drag show as proof.
In mid-May 2023, the owner of Pearl Bar, a lesbian bar in Houston, claimed that she was denied insurance coverage over her hosting of drag shows. An underwriter reportedly said in an email to her agent, "We will not write this risk due to drag." It is unclear whether this denial is tied to the anti-LGBTQ bills in the state. She did not name the insurance company and we only have her word for it. Snopes has reached out to the bar for more information.