Protests, counter-protests erupt outside drag show after Florida threatens Orlando venue

ORLANDO, Fla. — Protesters and counter-protesters lined the streets outside an Orlando bar amid concerns children would attend a drag show performance Wednesday night.


A “Drag Queen Christmas” returned to Orlando for the 8th year, but with a much bigger spotlight as anti-drag and anti-transgender sentiments rise among conservatives.

The Orlando performance, hosted at The Plaza Live, attracted opposition because the event’s ticketing page read “all ages welcome.” The current form of drag, which historians say emerged in the early 1900′s, often includes sexual themes thanks to its popularity among LGBTQ adults.

The tour’s final performance in Clearwater specified that audience members must be 18 or older.

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“18 and older, 21 or whatever, that’s fine, but they’re bringing children in,” a man who identified himself as Joe Whiteshark said, standing amid a group of protesters. “It’s pornographic… you wouldn’t take your child to a strip club.”

WFTV reviewed several clips of earlier dates in other cities, as well as a full version of the show uploaded to YouTube by an audience member. Various drag queens danced to holiday tunes, gospel music and popular songs and interacted with the audience. Some more provocative moments included costumes with exaggerated body parts, shirtless male backup dancers, explicit song lyrics and gyrating dance moves.

None of the videos reviewed showed any performers nude, though a few featured clothes-less prosthetics.

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Still, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) flagged The Plaza Live. In a letter to the operators Wednesday, officials threatened to suspend the venue’s alcohol license if any children or younger teens attended.

“Sexually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct when minors are in attendance,” DBPR Secretary Melanie Griffin wrote. “If you allow children to attend the Drag Fans drag show at your facility, you are putting your license in jeopardy.”

WFTV did not observe anyone appearing to be younger than 18 entering Plaza Live before Wednesday night’s performance began.

PHOTOS: Protests, counter-protests erupt outside drag show after Florida threatens Orlando venue

State Representative Anna Eskamani (D) pushed back on the notion that the show was being marketed to minors, amid a point-by-point rebuttal of state and conservative activist accusations.

“It has not been promoted to young people whatsoever,” she said. “It’s much more difficult to solve crises like affordable housing, when you can just create fake problems and distractions like going after drag shows.”

Eskamani and other supporters pointed to staunch demands conservative parents made about the need for parental rights, saying they couldn’t have it both ways.

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“You can let your kids watch a rated-R movie,” Sarah Parker said. “I watch a lot of rated R movies that show nudity. If you don’t want them to go to a drag show, don’t take them to a drag show.”

Eskamani predicted Florida would try to ban non-adults from all drag shows, regardless of content, in the upcoming legislative session. She predicted the move would be ruled unconstitutional by a court for violating Floridians’ freedom of expression.

Protesters outside Plaza Live admitted they had not rallied against the show during the prior seven years it came to town and had not heard any problems that arose from them.

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However, they pushed back on the comparison between drag shows and other forms of sexualized entertainment.

“This is where the line is, and it’s going (to be) drawn,” Whiteshark said.

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Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.