Just how petty and vindictive is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis? His administration has filed a complaint revoking the liquor license of a popular Orlando concert venue for allowing minors into a Christmas-themed drag show.
On Friday, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed a 27-page complaint revoking the liquor license of The Plaza Live, a venue operated by The Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation, though the venue can continue to sell alcohol while the complaint is processed. The six-count complaint said the venue violated Florida law by allowing a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of children under the age of 16, the New York Daily News reported.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that in a statement, DeSantis Press Secretary Bryan Griffin said the venue “violated Florida statutes,” and therefore “the Department is revoking the venue’s license for the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.”
The complaint itself said: “DeSantis stands to protect the innocence of children, and the governor always follows through when he says he will do something."
The Dec. 28 event at Plaza One was billed as “A Drag Queen Christmas,” a show that has toured the country during the holiday season for eight consecutive years. The show includes several alumni of RuPaul’s Drag Race, an Emmy-winning reality TV competition that has been broadcast by MTV since 2009.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that the philharmonic foundation’s board had issued the following response to DeSantis’ action:
In a joint statement, the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation’s board of directors said The Plaza Live has hosted drag performances for eight consecutive years and described the venue to be a “welcoming and inclusive establishment that operates in good faith and compliance with all applicable laws.”
“That includes respecting the rights of parents to decide what content is or is not appropriate for their own children,” the statement said. “… We have just been made aware of this administrative complaint and are working with our legal team to evaluate and respond appropriately.”
In a tweet, Democratic Rep. Maxwell Frost of Florida, whose district includes part of Orlando, denounced the move as “FASCISM in action. Queer celebration is anything but obscene. We cannot tolerate DeSantis and his attempt to erase our communities. I wholeheartedly condemn this attack and remain in solidarity with our beautiful LGBTQ+ family in Orlando.”
Frost, 26, is the first Gen-Z member to be elected to Congress.
Frost was responding to a tweet from attorney Alejandra Caraballo, a prominent LGBTQ rights advocate, who accused the DeSantis administration of “weaponizing the state to eliminate queer existence.”
In another tweet, Caraballo noted that one count in the complaint claims that businesses that host drag performances are a “nuisance.” She wrote: “They are attempting to criminalize speech by reinforcing obscenity and morality laws and thus not protected by the 1st amendment.”
Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani, who represents the district the venue is in, strongly criticized the state’s decision.
"We have to call out the governor for his hypocrisy because he talks about parents' rights when it comes to banning books. But now he doesn't believe in parents' rights when it comes to bringing your family to a drag performance," Eskamani said, according to TV station WESH 2.
It’s the latest shot fired by DeSantis in the culture war as he attempts to firm up right-wing support for a possible challenge to Donald Trump in the 2024 GOP presidential nominating contest.
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It is especially offensive because Orlando was the scene of the deadliest single incident targeting the LGBTQ community in U.S. history: the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in which a gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 50. Prior to the October 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip, it was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history,
Florida lawmakers are to meet in the coming week to finalize a state takeover of Walt Disney World's self-governing district. It’s the latest development in a high-profile feud between DeSantis and Disney over the company's criticism of the state’s “Don't Say Gay" law, signed by DeSantis in March 2022, which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age-appropriate.
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The New Republic put DeSantis’ actions into a broader context:
DeSantis has gone to all-out war with anything he deems “woke,” and with LGBTQ rights in particular. He enacted the state’s now infamous Don’t Say Gay law, banned transgender women from playing women’s sports, and vowed to defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs on college campuses. He also unconstitutionally forced out Andrew Warren, a state attorney who said he would not unilaterally criminalize cases involving personal medical issues, such as abortion or trans health care.
DeSantis is also part of a larger trend of Republicans demonizing drag queens and trans people, accusing them of being pedophiles as a way to fearmonger about the LGBTQ community. Drag shows, Medicaid funding for gender-affirmative care, and even children’s hospitals have all come under attack.
The Orlando performance of “A Drag Queen Christmas” was the next-to-last stop in a 36-city tour. Here’s how the organizers promoted the show:
We promise you’ve never seen Rudolph sashay this hard. Several RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni, including season winners, fan favorites and Miss Congeniality winners, will be dazzling in thee most adorned Christmas attire at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 28. … The queens will perform and lip-sync to the holiday classics that you know, love and maybe even loathe (especially if you’re a retail store worker).
Sounds like good fun. And no one is forcing parents to bring along the kiddies. Parental choice, right?
But the Department of Business and Professional Regulation sent a letter prior to the show warning that “sexually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct when minors are in attendance.” The letter said if the philharmonic foundation failed to ban minors from the performance, “its license would be subject to penalties.”
The show did go on. There was a sign posted at the entrance to the venue that advised attendees of potentially unsuitable content for those under the age of 18. The complaint filed on Friday said the sign was too small and it included photographs of children attending the event.
The Orlando Sentinel wrote:
The plaza is facing six civil counts of statute violations, including admitting children onto a licensed premises where performers conduct simulations of sexual activity constituting lewdness, unlawful exposure of sexual organs, engaging or permitting disorderly conduct and maintaining a nuisance on the licensed premises, the complaint said. …
The show toured several Florida cities including Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Clearwater. The Orlando show drew in large crowds of supporters that wanted to reinforce the free agency of parents and protest the conservative movement’s attacks on LGBTQ progress.
HuffPost noted that the complaint described some of the songs performed at the show, including “Screwdolph the Red-Nippled Reindeer,” which featured the following lyrics: “Then one soggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, ‘Screwdolph with your nipples so bright won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?’”
Here’s the performance of that song in Knoxville, Tennessee, six days before the Orlando show.
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