Hamburger Mary's in Orlando sues Florida, Gov. DeSantis over law targeting drag shows

ByJamiel Lynch and Nouran Salahieh
Sunday, May 28, 2023
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A popular restaurant in Orlando that hosts drag brunches filed a lawsuit Monday against Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, claiming it lost business because of a new law signed last week that has been widely interpreted by LGBTQ advocates as a crackdown on drag shows.

The owner of Hamburger Mary's Orlando says their First Amendment rights were violated when DeSantis last week signed a bill, SB 1438, restricting the attendance of children at certain performances, according to the lawsuit. The restaurant is asking the court to block the implementation of the law.

"This bill has nothing to do with children, and everything to do with the continued oppression of the LGBTQ+ community," a statement posted Monday on the restaurant's Facebook page reads.

"Anytime our legislators want to demonize a group, they say they are coming for your children. In this case, creating a false narrative that drag queens are grooming and recruiting your children with no factual basis or history to back up these accusations AT ALL!" the Hamburger Mary's Orlando statement reads.

The legislation was a priority for DeSantis, who has elevated cultural battles in political speeches across the country as he marches toward an expected presidential campaign announcement this week.

"We are going to remain a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy, and kids should have an upbringing that reflects that," DeSantis has said.

DeSantis' office has not responded to a CNN request for comment on the lawsuit.

While the law does not specifically mention drag shows, it is sobroad "as to include this art form in the state's interpretation," the lawsuit alleges.

Hamburger Mary's - which has several locations across the US, including in West Hollywood and Long Beach - used to host family-friendly drag brunches on Sundays at its Orlando location, where children are allowed to attend, the suit says.

"There is no lewd activity, sexually explicit shows, disorderly conduct, public exposure, obscene exhibition or anything inappropriate for a child to see," the lawsuit says.

After the law was signed, the restaurant told its customers that children won't be allowed to attend any of its drag shows, and as a result, 20% of its bookings were canceled for a May 21 show, as well as for future shows, according to the suit.

"They simply cannot take the chance that their business or liquor licenses would be suspended for hosting a drag show where children attend," the lawsuit says, adding that the criminal penalties outlined by the law put individuals at risk of prosecution.

The new Florida legislation, dubbed the "Protection of Children" act, prohibits children at adult live performances, which is defined as "any show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience which, in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities ... or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts."

Those found in violation could face prosecution and thousands of dollars in fines and have their licenses revoked.

The bill was one of several related to LGBTQ topics that have quickly moved through the Republican-controlled Florida legislature this session. DeSantis last week also signed into law new restrictions on gender-affirming treatments for minors, bathroom use and which pronouns can be used in schools.

Kara Gross, ACLU of Florida's legislative director, last month called the legislation "a blatant attempt to erase drag performers and silence the LGBTQ+ community."

"They are setting a precedent that the state legislators can decide what is best for you based on THEIR own values and convictions, and write it into law," the Facebook statement from Hamburger Mary's reads. "We've spent too many years moving forward. We can't go back!"

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