Florida moves to revoke Orlando event venue’s liquor license after drag queen show

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary said the venue “violated Florida statutes.”
Police are lined up outside Plaza Live in Orlando on Dec. 28, 2022.
Police are lined up outside Plaza Live in Orlando on Dec. 28, 2022. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Feb. 5|Updated Feb. 5

ORLANDO — The Plaza Live, an Orlando event venue that came under state scrutiny for hosting a drag queen performance open to all ages in December, could lose its ability to sell alcohol, according to a complaint filed Friday by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The agency claimed The Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation, which oversees the venue, had a responsibility to make sure no minors were in attendance at the Dec. 28 show, but failed and violated Florida statute in the process.

Images released in the complaint show adults bringing children into the venue. There was also a sign at the entrance that advised attendees of potentially unsuitable content for those under the age of 18, according to the complaint.

The investigation into the venue followed threats from the governor’s office to enact penalties if the plaza on Bumby Avenue allowed minors to see “A Drag Queen Christmas,” a show that featured holiday musical numbers and entertainers of all genders. The complaint alleged the show included “simulated sex acts.”

In a statement, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Bryan Griffin, said the venue “violated Florida statutes,” and therefore “the Department is revoking the venue’s license for the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.”

According to DBPR spokesperson Beth Pannell, the venue can continue to sell alcohol “until final action is taken by the agency in accordance with Florida’s Administrative Procedure Act.”

The plaza is facing six civil counts of statute violations, including admitting children onto a licensed premises where performers conduct simulations of sexual activity constituting lewdness, unlawful exposure of sexual organs, engaging or permitting disorderly conduct and maintaining a nuisance on the licensed premises, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, the show was also marketed to children before the performances.

No criminal charges have been filed.

The show toured several Florida cities, including Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Clearwater. The Orlando show drew in large crowds of supporters that wanted to reinforce the free agency of parents and protest the conservative movement’s attacks on LGBTQ progress.

But the show also drew a swell of right-wing protesters who claimed the show exposed children to “sexually explicit” content.

Some conservative protesters accused the show of pedophilia or “grooming,” an allegation often baselessly directed at LGBTQ people to imply a link between them and cases of child abuse.

LGBTQ activists say the country has seen a rise in anti-LGBTQ violence, fueled, in part, by policies advanced by Republican lawmakers, like House Bill 1557, known to critics as the “don’t say gay” bill, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools up to the third grade or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate” for students in higher grades.

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The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform said social media content alleging that members of the LGBTQ community were “groomers” skyrocketed by more than 400% last year after the passage of the bill.

Reacting to the news of the state action against Plaza Live, former Democratic lawmaker and LGBTQ activist Carlos Guillermo Smith on social media accused the governor’s office of overstepping its authority.

“Ron DeSantis’ formal action to revoke Plaza Live’s liquor license for hosting ‘Drag Queen Christmas’ is an extreme abuse of regulatory power that can have devastating economic consequences for this local business,” he said. “Why can’t parents decide what’s appropriate for their own kids?”