A nonprofit-run theater in Orlando is reportedly at risk of losing its liquor license, the latest attack in Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s war on drag shows, which he’s called “sexualized” entertainment.
And the complaint from a state agency was filed even after Florida’s own undercover police said in a report that they did “not witness any lewd acts” during a December drag show.
The Plaza Live theater in Orlando hosted a performance of a show called “A Drag Queen Christmas” on Dec. 28. Agents from the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation were in attendance and took photos and videos of the performance and photos of three minors who were accompanied by their parents, the Miami Herald reported Monday.
But those cops did not actually find that the theater was in violation of the law. “Besides some of the outfits being provocative [bikinis and short shorts], agents did not witness any lewd acts such as exposure of genital organs,” according to a report by the agents obtained by the Miami Herald. “The performers did not have any physical contact while performing to the rhythm of the music with any patrons.”
There was a sign posted outside the venue saying that while entry was not restricted to minors, “please be advised that some may think the context is not appropriate for under 18,” according to the Herald.
Regardless, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation reportedly filed a complaint against the theater in February and sought to revoke its liquor license. In the complaint, the state accused the nonprofit that runs the theater of exposing minors to “acts of sexual conduct, simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar and indecent display,” according to the Herald.
VICE News has not independently verified the documents reported by the Miami Herald. Neither the Department of Business and Professional Regulation nor the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation, which operates the theater, immediately responded to a request for comment from VICE News on Monday.
But the complaint comes as DeSantis readies a likely presidential run, having spent his tenure as governor stoking the flames of culture war and targeting the LGBTQ+ community. DeSantis last year called drag shows that could be attended by children “a disturbing trend in our society to try to sexualize these young people.”
Florida legislators are also seeking to tighten restrictions on drag shows. A bill introduced in the Florida legislature earlier this month would define drag shows that children are able to attend as an “immediate, serious danger to public health, safety, or welfare.”
In addition to Plaza Live, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is reportedly seeking to remove the liquor licenses of two venues in Miami that hosted drag shows, according to the Herald. One, the Hyatt Regency, also put on a production of “A Drag Queen Christmas” on Dec. 27. The R House, a restaurant in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, was hit with a complaint last year over a drag brunch it hosted.
Reached for comment last week on the Hyatt Regency complaint, DeSantis’ office told CBS News in a statement that “sexually explicit content is not appropriate to display to children and doing so violates Florida law,” and that DeSantis “stands up for the innocence of children in the classroom and throughout Florida.”
Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former Democratic state legislator and current outreach coordinator in the Orlando area for Equality Florida, told the Herald that the DeSantis administration’s maneuver against Plaza Live is evidence that the investigation is “contrived” and “politically motivated,” with the goal of helping DeSantis’s presidential aspirations.
“What you see here is the governor sending in investigators and then dismissing what the investigators have to say because it doesn’t fit into his narrative,” Guillermo Smith told the Herald.
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.