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Federal judge temporarily blocks Texas law limiting drag show performances

A federal judge Thursday filed a temporary restraining order to block a Texas law that critics argued would target drag show performances.

A federal judge Thursday blocked a Texas law that opponents argued would limit, or in some cases, ban drag show performances. 

The law, approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and due to go into effect Friday, did not explicitly mention drag performances. But opponents argued it would be used to shut them down or put them in jail.

The law aimed to expand the legal definition in the Texas criminal code of what is considered to be an illegal public performance of sexual conduct in front of children. Critics argued that the definition is so broad, it could include the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.


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U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston issued the temporary restraining order after a group of drag performers and LGBTQ+ rights advocates sought to keep the law from taking effect. During a two-day court hearing earlier this week, drag performers and advocates said the new law threatened their livelihoods and would censor their freedom of expression.

In his order, Hittner agreed with those who filed the lawsuit that the new law violates their First Amendment rights. Hittner said he issued the temporary restraining order to immediately stop the law while he prepares a more permanent order in the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, called the judge’s order “a much-needed reprieve for all Texans, especially our LGBTQIA+ and transgender community, who have been relentlessly targeted by our state legislature.” 

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“Drag performers and LGBTQIA+ allied businesses belong in our state — and Texas politicians have no right to censor our free expression,” ACLU of Texas tweeted. 

The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which represented the state in the lawsuit, said the law was passed “to protect children and uphold public decency.”

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“The people of Texas were appalled to learn of an increasing trend of obscene, sexually explicit so-called ‘drag’ performances being marketed to families with children. The Office of the Attorney General will pursue all legal remedies possible to aggressively defend the law,” the AG’s office told Fox News Digital in a statement. 

Proponents of the law said it was intended to protect children from seeing drag shows. Republican lawmakers amended it in response to criticism to remove some specific references to drag performances, but the sponsor’s “statement of intent” still cites a need to protect children from seeing drag shows, and the final text broadened the scope of what’s illegal in ways that would also cover many other performances done in front of children.

For example, it defines sexual conduct to include sexual gestures that use “accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics.” The law also criminalizes real or simulated groping, real or simulated arousal, and the display of a sex toy if done in a “prurient” manner in front of a minor or on public property at a time and place where the performance could reasonably be expected to be viewed by a child.

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Violators could face up to a year in jail, and businesses hosting performances deemed illegal could be fined $10,000 for each violation.

The Texas order follows similar rulings against drag performance bans in states including Florida and Tennessee. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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