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An Orlando drag show restaurant files lawsuit against Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis

Hamburger Mary's in Orlando, which has held drag performances since 2008, is suing to block the implementation of a new Florida law that targets drag shows.
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Hamburger Mary's in Orlando, which has held drag performances since 2008, is suing to block the implementation of a new Florida law that targets drag shows.

A popular Orlando burger restaurant known for regularly featuring drag shows is suing the state of Florida and its governor, Ron DeSantis — arguing that the state's new law targeting drag shows violates First Amendment rights.

The owners of Hamburger Mary's in Orlando say their First Amendment rights were violated after DeSantis signed a bill, SB 1438, last week that restricts children from attending certain drag show performances, according to a federal lawsuit obtained by NPR.

The restaurant's Orlando location is asking the court to block the implementation of the state's new law. Other Hamburger Mary's locations across Florida and the rest of the U.S. are not part of the suit.

"It is apparent from the actions of the State of Florida, that it intends to consider drag shows to be a public nuisance, lewd, disorderly, sexually explicit involving public exposure and obscene and that it is necessary to protect children from this art form, in spite of evidence to the contrary," the lawsuit says.

The owners of Hamburger Mary's in Orlando say the establishment has regularly hosted drag shows since 2008.

They argue in the lawsuit that the drag performances are appropriate for children and that there is "no lewd activity, sexually explicit shows, disorderly conduct, public exposure, obscene exhibition, or anything inappropriate for a child to see."

The owners also claim Florida's new law is too vague, and they allege their bookings fell 20% after the restaurant, out of caution, told customers this month that they could no longer bring children to drag shows.

Florida state Sen. Clay Yarborough, the bill's sponsor, and DeSantis' office did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment on the lawsuit.

The owners of Hamburger Mary's declined NPR's request for an interview. In a statement posted on Facebook, the owners explain their decision behind filing the lawsuit.

"This bill has nothing to do with children, and everything to do with the continued oppression of the LGBTQ+ community," Hamburger Mary's Orlando said in a statement.

"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 statement adds.

Florida's new law, referred to as the "Protection of Children" act, prohibits children from attending any "adult live performance."

An "adult live performance" is described in the law 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 who are found in violation of the new law could face prosecution, in addition to thousands of dollars in fines and having their licenses revoked.

The law is just one of several related to anti-LGBTQ+ topics that were introduced by Florida's Republican-controlled legislature this session.

Last week, DeSantis signed into law a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, restrictions on discussion of "preferred pronouns" in schools and restrictions on using bathrooms that don't match one's assigned sex at birth.

More than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed in 2022 during state legislative sessions. However, only 29 of those bills were signed into law.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.