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Florida Restaurant That Hosts Drag Shows Sues DeSantis Over Free Speech Rights

(Bloomberg) -- A hamburger chain that says it regularly hosts family friendly drag shows sued Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, claiming a new state law banning such performances when children may be present chills artistic expression in violation of the First Amendment.

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The Hamburger Mary’s outpost in Orlando, which has long hosted drag shows appealing to the LGBTQ and straight communities, said in a complaint filed Monday that Florida’s government didn’t demonstrate a “compelling interest” in protecting children from such performances.

“Even if the state could identify a compelling interest, this law is far from narrowly tailored,” the restaurant’s lawyers said in the suit. “It is broad enough to encompass even the most innocent drag performances, to reach into the private homes of Florida citizens, and to determine on behalf of parents what is and is not appropriate entertainment for their children.”

Drag performances have come under fire as Republican politicians latched onto the issue to demonstrate their conservative bona fides, including DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate. In 2022, there were at least 124 incidents of protests, threats and violent actions against drag events and venues in the US, a November report showed.

Read More: Tennessee Drag Ban Put On Hold by Trump-Appointed Judge

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

US District Judge Gregory Presnell on Tuesday scheduled a June 6 hearing in Orlando on whether to grant a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law while the case proceeds.

DeSantis on May 17 signed into law an amendment allowing Florida officials to fine venues and revoke their licenses if children are found to be viewing performances with “lewd conduct,” which is defined in the statute to include prosthetic breasts.

Hamburger Mary’s lost 20% of its reservations for a May 21 show after announcing that children would not be allowed to attend future drag performances.

The case is HM Florida-ORL LLC v. State of Florida, 6:23-cv-00950, US District Court for the Middle District of Florida (Orlando).

(Updates with judge scheduling hearing for preliminary injunction)

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