TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s top business regulators are investigating complaints against an event called “A Drag Queen Christmas” in Fort Lauderdale that, according to the organizer, required attendees who were minors to be accompanied by a parent and warned about “adult themes and content.”
It is the second time this year that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is scrutinizing a drag queen event for allegedly exposing children to a “sexually explicit performance.” Both investigations stemmed from complaints that were amplified by conservative activists on social media.
The investigations come as Republicans across the country increasingly criticize drag performances, which involve entertainers of all genders dressing in elaborate and sometimes provocative costumes and enacting choreographed routines that feature songs from popular artists.
DeSantis, who is widely believed to be considering a run for president in 2024, has vowed to hold accountable businesses that expose children to “sexualized content,” and his office has hinted at potential criminal charges, though none have been filed.
“Exposing children to sexually explicit activity is a crime in Florida, and such action violates the Department’s licensing standards for operating a business and holding a liquor license,” DeSantis spokesperson Bryan Griffin wrote in a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday. The statement was first shared with the conservative blog The Floridian.
The investigation is being handled by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which has arrest powers. But the governor’s office said the extent of the investigation into the Drag Queen Christmas event could extend to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for “potential criminal liability.”
A spokesperson for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, where the Christmas-themed drag queen event took place on Monday, said on Wednesday that the organization had not yet been contacted by the state.
Griffin wrote in his statement the event had been “marketed to children.” Later, he noted in an email that the touring show had, at various times, been promoted as open to all ages at venues across the state.
A spokesperson for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts contended that attendees were warned in a disclaimer that the show was intended for a mature audience.
“Admission is limited to patrons 18 years of age or over, unless accompanied by a parent,” read a Dec. 22 version of the performing arts center’s website touting the event, according to the internet archive.
The center appears to have amended that disclosure in the days leading up to the show. A Dec. 17 version of the event page claimed the event “was an all-ages show” that “may contain adult content.”
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The performing arts organization’s spokesperson said ticket buyers were informed of the show’s adult themes in an email before the performance. The cast features former contestants from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
In a video posted on Twitter, conservative social media activist Chris Nelson can be heard shouting midway through the show about children being present at the event. The crowd booed him and a performer told him she was addressing a 35-year-old in the audience, not children.
“It is not right to have drag shows with children at all,” Nelson said as he was escorted out of the venue by law enforcement officers at the event.
“You should arrest them for having children at this thing,” he told the officers. “That is who you should be arresting.”
Nelson’s tweet of the video had been viewed more than 2 million times as of Wednesday.
If the state tries to revoke the center’s liquor licenses, it could be a serious regulatory blow. According to state records, the organization holds three such licenses. Two are licenses for performing arts organizations that serve beer, wine or liquor, and one is a broader license that allows consumption of beer, wine or liquor on the premises.
Events at the center for the performing arts are largely supported by donations to the nonprofit Broward Performing Arts Foundation, according to the center’s website.
On Tuesday, Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Melanie Griffin sent a letter to event organizers of the drag show’s Miami stop at the James L. Knight Center, warning them they could lose their liquor license if they allow children to attend the event. The show took place on Tuesday night.
The Drag Queen Christmas tour is coming to Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday. According to a webpage promoting the event, the show is limited to attendees 18 or older. However, a Dec. 20 version of Ruth Eckerd Hall’s page promoting the event came with a similar disclaimer to the Broward tour stop: Those younger than 18 were allowed if accompanied by a parent.
In August, Florida business regulators targeted a daytime Miami drag queen show seen by children. They said the event was a public nuisance and proclaimed that the restaurant was violating a series of Florida criminal laws against “lewdness.”
That event was investigated by the state after a video, amplified to a national audience by Canadian conservative activist Lauren Chen, showed a partially dressed drag performer leading around a little girl during a brunch performance.
“I actually want something to be done about this,” Chen said in a July 3 video posted on her YouTube Channel, which has half a million followers.
DeSantis said the state would seek to revoke the business’s liquor license, but no action has been taken yet.
“The situation is ongoing and R House ownership is continuing to work with the city Department of Business and Professional Regulation, through their attorney, to rectify the situation,” R House ownership said in a statement on Wednesday.