Texas ban on public drag performances blocked by judge

FILE PHOTO: Drag Show Story Hour at Community Church of Chesterland

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Texas on Thursday temporarily blocked the state's law limiting public drag performances, in another win for LGBTQ groups challenging similar laws across the country.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston said the law, which was set to take effect on Friday, likely violates performers' constitutional right to free speech.

Hittner blocked the law pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU's Texas chapter, in a posting on X, formerly Twitter, said "drag performers and LGBTQIA+ allied businesses belong in our state — and Texas politicians have no right to censor our free expression."

Paige Willey, a spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General's office, said the state would "pursue all legal remedies" in defense of the law.

"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," Willey said.

The Texas law prohibits lewd or sexualized performances utilizing "accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics" in public or in the presence of minors.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican and staunch supporter of the law, said when it was passed in April that it would prevent children from being "scarred for life" by being exposed to sexually-charged drag shows.

Federal judges in Tennessee and Florida earlier this year temporarily blocked similar laws in those states, also citing free-speech violations. Those decisions are being appealed.

Montana, Arkansas and North Dakota have also enacted restrictions on drag performances.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)