Gov. DeSantis’ dangerously broad drag show crackdown is a threat to St. Pete Pride event, among other problems

st. pete pride
See you at Pride. If it’s not canceled.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and his swarm of conservative lawmakers, media allies and constituent groupies have gotten their way when it comes to turning drag shows into, well, a drag.

But when DeSantis signed SB 1438, “Protection of Children,” he unleashed a torrent of culture war strifes, economic boondoggles and hypocritical possibilities.

The law at issue is a crackdown on “lewd” performances where children are present. The law doesn’t mention drag shows, but make no mistake, that’s what it targets — DeSantis himself has even said so.

It bans minors from live shows that “in whole or in part” depict or simulate “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities.” That also includes “lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.” 

Look, I don’t think anyone who isn’t already or should be a registered sex offender thinks kids should be knowingly subjected to porn. To hear DeSantis and his foot soldiers who carried the bill describe it, that’s what drag shows are.

But the vague language barring “exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts” opens so many doors to unscrupulous overenforcement, it borders on, dare I say, government overreach.

These are the folks who want the government out of your business … unless it’s a vagina, fake or otherwise.

Does showing a prosthetic boob mean it has to be fully exposed, or are we talking run of the mill cleavage here? Because there’s a big difference between policing shows that include nudity and shows that have drag queens with side boob.

And the vagueness with which this law is penned is even more problematic when exploring the consequences. A person who admits a child to such a performance will face a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and a year in prison. The hotel, motel, restaurant, bar, theater, club or similar establishment hosting the event will face a $5,000 fine for a first offense, and a $10,000 penalty for each violation thereafter. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) will also be able to revoke the business’ liquor license.

If that’s not egregious enough, city officials who issue permits for a public event, including risqué gay pride parades that expose children to such displays, will also face misdemeanor charges.

That little snippet has already been tested. Tampa Pride has canceled its “Pride on the River’ event saying the group “didn’t want to take any chances,” noting they were afraid DeSantis “would come in with his Gestapo.”

And another test is coming in my hometown St. Petersburg, where the state’s largest pride parade happens next month. If you’ve been, you know the attendees come in all varieties of dressed up revelry, from rainbow clothes and face paint right on up to booby tassels and assless chaps.

There will be kids there, most with their parents, but some older kids are known to wander the festivities sans chaperone, too.

Mayor Ken Welch hasn’t yet weighed in on what, if any, steps the city is taking to protect its employees from getting a rap sheet for signing off on a parade. Sources have told me there are talks about options. So far, St. Pete Pride is full steam ahead with plans that include not only the June 24 parade, but a host of ancillary events promoting equality and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, including its drag queens.

Given what we know about Pride events, it’s almost certain the parade and many of the events would run afoul of new law, and that poses too many problems to count.

First thing’s first. If anyone from the state or any other agency tries to enforce this law on Pride, we sure as hell better also see enforcement at the Gasparilla parades across the bridge, where exposed breasts are about as common as pirate hats and beads. Guaranteed some of them are, er, “prosthetic.”

And if we don’t see that enforcement, well there’s your proof that exposed breasts are only offensive if they’re attached to someone assigned male at birth.

We’ll be watching.

Aside from that, DeSantis’ “protect kids from drag queens” crusade could be almost as big a hit to businesses and the economy as a global pandemic. When lockdowns and mask mandates were standing in the way of economic prosperity, DeSantis was willing to gamble with lives. But when the threat is a fabulously adorned, elaborately made-up drag queen, to hell with your bottom line!

Tennessee’s fiscal review committee in February found that a now-approved bill there imposing similar restrictions on drag shows would cost the state up to $2 billion in revenue. Those losses could stem from anything from people leaving the state to businesses and events shunning Tennessee in protest.

That’s certainly what happened after North Carolina in 2016 passed a bill requiring individuals to use the bathroom for the gender assigned at birth. North Carolina reportedly lost $3.76 million in business revenue from companies canceling plans to locate in the state, canceled events and more.

And that’s just the broad stroke. On a more individual level, businesses that rely on drag show revenue could find themselves in ruin — either by lost revenue from canceling events to avoid enforcement, or through fines if they don’t.

An owner of a Tennessee restaurant that hosts drag brunches, bingos and trivia, told Marketplace that “if you took the drag away, then it’s just another boring bar,” noting that those events are a major draw for the business.

Google drag queen bingo in your area and see how many hits you get. Then imagine all of those businesses going under.

This is not a pro-business law.

And it’s part of a wider attack on the LBGTQ+ community that is, quite literally, going to kill kids.

At the event where DeSantis signed the drag show bill, he also signed legislation banning gender-affirming care for minors; expanding his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation through eighth grade; banning requirements that teachers use requested pronouns if they don’t align with a students gender assigned at birth; broadening parents’ ability to challenge books; restricting bathroom access to the gender assigned at birth; and imposing state control over school athletics to keep trans athletes from participating in girls’ sports.

A national Library of Medicine study, part of the National Institutes of Health, found that the suicide rate and suicidal tendencies among transgender people are “considerably high compared to general population,” at anywhere from 32% to 50%. The study notes a number of factors that put transgender individuals at greater risk of suicide or suicide ideation, including “discrimination and ill treatment” in heath care systems and rejection among the community.

Whether DeSantis wants to call it that or not, the bills he signed are, in fact, anti-trans. They create discrimination in health care by denying treatment and it exemplifies rejection not just in a community, but the whole damn state.

The bottom line is this: DeSantis’ culture war attacks on the LBGTQ+ community, particularly the trans community, is bad for business, it’s bad for the economy and it’s bad for public health.

Yet our Governor remains not only complacent, but an active cheerleader for policy that will cripple businesses and hurt, not protect, kids.

See you at Pride. If it’s not canceled.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


  • Dont Say FLA

    May 19, 2023 at 8:46 am

    Looking on the bright side, Rhonda scaring everyone into staying home all the time despite Rhonda’s insufferable bragging about how Florida is open, it might actually prevent some more mass shootings for Florida. This is the only action Rhonda will ever take to keep Floridians from being shot to death, and it’s only by happenstance. Rhonda doesn’t even realize what they’re doing, keeping Floridians safe from the NRA types with their bullets by forcing people to stay home. I would bet the NRA and the MAGAs are outraged that Rhonda is keeping Florida’s drag queens safe from being shot in public. Good job, Rhonda.

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  • Mike

    May 19, 2023 at 9:57 am

    So much for being small government and business friendly.

  • Ron DeSantis wears High Heels

    May 19, 2023 at 10:26 am

    Such a broad definition of “Lewd performances where children are present” could target Gasparilla, the beaches, concerts, and even pro sports cheerleaders.

    Let the lawsuits fly!

  • Dan

    May 19, 2023 at 10:40 am

    Florida has had one of the largest and most vibrant queer communities in the country. One man and his gimp legislature single-handedly are destroying it by demonizing these people and exposing them to harm. Now even medical care isn’t guaranteed since the state legalized discrimination against them by doctors and hospitals. Florida is quickly gaining the reputation as being an intolerant, hateful and cruel state that is dangerous to visit for many groups of people. That is not a smart move for a state that is 100% reliant on tourist revenue.

    • Republicans are just fundamentally stupid people.

      May 19, 2023 at 11:36 am

      Republicans are just fundamentally stupid people. Once you understand that, it makes more sense. They will continue to vote against their own interests because they are just stupid people.

      They don’t care about their own quality of life being tarnished by this governor, insurance or housing costs out of reach for many people ,or the fact that Florida now has the most out of balance cost of living vs. wages in the country.

      But as long as liberals are being owned by bigoted policies that only make life worse for an already put up group, they will continue to happily vote against their own interests.

  • jim keywest

    May 21, 2023 at 2:47 pm

    I don’t think the man understands what he just did. It will even shut down nudist resorts and Haulover beach that has been legal for well over 50 years. This destroys many events in Key West. And this short sighted man running for president? Sorry I voted for him. This is the result of not wording a law properly. Kids should not be subject to watching a drag show but with his wording destroys what was not hurting a kid. Yes at gay pride they see it and it might help them. The parent should have a say in it. Please get this law repealed and write a new one.

  • Michael K

    May 22, 2023 at 10:52 pm

    St. Pete has a wonderful Pride celebration, and I hope they have the courage to march on – drag queens and all — as they have for many years.

    I’m fed up with Florida legislators trying to force LGBTQ people back into the closet by using threats, intimidation and lawsuits to prohibit free speech. Yes, folks, this is fascism. Just say no to Ron and Casey’s bigotry.

Comments are closed.


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