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Texas bills filed to make drag shows illegal for businesses not classified as 'sexually oriented'

The owner of Extragrams, a drag entertainment service, said not all drag shows are sexual and you can't put the art in a box.

AUSTIN, Texas — Multiple bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature this session aiming to make it illegal for a bar or restaurant to host a drag show unless it's classified as a "sexually oriented business."

Republican State Rep. Jared Patterson is just one of three lawmakers who's filed these bills. HB 643 was filed by Patterson, HB 708 by State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano/Dallas) and HB 1266 by Nate Schatzline (R-Fort Worth).

Kerry Lynn is the owner of Extragrams, a drag entertainment business she said was built to bring joy during the pandemic.

"It was someone's birthday and her husband had us come and celebrate her," Lynn said.

Lynn said the drag queens perform at weddings, corporate entertainment, virtual bingo and many other places. She said business is booming. 

Recently, Extagrams drag queens performed at the City of Austin's all-ages New Year's celebration.

It's all-age drag shows with children in attendance that some Republican lawmakers are trying to limit.

"If you want to be a sexually oriented business, that's fine, but you need to play by the same rules as everyone else does," Rep. Patterson said.

His bill would make it illegal for restaurants and bars to host drag shows unless they're defined as a sexually oriented business – the same classification as a strip club.

"We're trying to tailor a bill to say that the sexually suggestive drag shows where grown men wear women's underwear and seek children to stuff dollar bills into their underwear," Patterson said, "we don't want that to occur in the state of Texas."

The bill would impact zoning and taxes for businesses that host drag shows. In Austin, sexually oriented businesses cannot be within 1,000 feet of places like libraries, museums, schools and day cares.

"For it to be classified as a whole as a sexually oriented art is just wrong," Lynn said. "It's just absolutely wrong. Any time we know that there are going to be children present or there's going to be a younger audience, we always make sure to curate it so that it's appropriate."

Lynn said since lawmakers started pushing bills like this, performers have seen more threats and have had to cancel shows.

"It's shocking to see that our representatives are choosing to wage a war on artists," Lynn said. "They're choosing to wage a war on performers who just want to exist and be fabulous and entertain and bring joy."

Patterson admits the bill is broad and the language needs to be tightened to target those sexually explicit shows. He said that's why they filed the bill so early, to get feedback.

"I don't want a big, heavy-handed government coming down, but I think that we need to protect the innocence of our children," Patterson said.

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