Texas bill would incentivize ‘bounty hunters’ to target drag shows, advocates say

HB 4378 would allow anyone to sue a drag performer if a minor attends their performance

A Texas bill could embolden “bounty hunters” to target drag queens, LGBTQ2S+ advocates say. The bill’s enforcement strategy mirrors that of an abortion ban enacted by the state in 2021.

Houston-area representative Steve Toth last Thursday filed HB 4378, a bill that would allow people to sue anyone who performs in or hosts a drag show that a child attends, the Advocate reports. A plaintiff who wins could be paid for attorney’s fees, actual damages—including those for “psychological, emotional, economic and physical harm”—and statutory damages of USD $5,000. 

“An individual who attends a drag performance as a minor may bring an action against a person who knowingly promotes, conducts or participates as a performer in the drag performance that occurs before an audience that includes the minor,” the bill says. It goes on to say that a person may sue if the performance violates the prevailing standard for content suitable for minors and if there isn’t a reasonable effort to stop minors from seeing the drag show. 

The bill defines “a drag performance” as a performance in which a performer exhibits a gender that is different than the performer’s gender recorded at birth … and sings, lip syncs, dances or otherwise performs in a lascivious manner before an audience.”

As with other drag bans, advocates warn that it could be used to persecute trans people just for existing.

“These bounties can easily be turned against trans performers,” Erin Reed, an activist who reports on queer news, tweeted. “The bill would likely ban Kim Petras from performing in Texas, for instance. It could ban a trans person singing karaoke. It could ban Pride.”

Trey Stewart, the owner of the Dallas gay bar Mr. Misster, who received death threats after hosting an all-ages drag brunch, told The Dallas Observer that the bill would heighten the existing threats against the bar. 

 

“The bill would likely ban Kim Petras from performing in Texas, for instance. It could ban a trans person singing karaoke. It could ban Pride.”

“When you empower people that are already putting our people in a vulnerable, dangerous situation to be police and to become bounty hunters,” Stewart told the Texas outlet, “I think you’re setting the LGBTQ2S+ community up for failure; well, you’re setting everyone up for failure.”

This isn’t the first time that Texas conservatives have used the “bounty hunter” bill format to target marginalized people. Senate Bill 8, which was enacted in Fall 2021, allows anyone to file a civil suit against people they said had aided an abortion for up to USD $100,000 (a Texas state court in late 2022 threw out a lawsuit that had been filed against a doctor who had performed an abortion after the law came into effect). Another recent bill would allow people to sue librarians who keep books with LGBTQ2S+ stories on their shelves. 

The bill is just one of over 90 proposed during the 88th Texas legislative session that target LGBTQ2S+ people. These bills include those that limit where drag shows can be performed, restrict LGBTQ2S+-inclusive education, bar physicians from administering gender-affirming care and control which college sports teams trans people can join. These bills are detrimental to trans people’s health: a January report from The Trevor Project found that 86 percent of trans youth reported negative mental health due to anti-LGBTQ2S+ legislation. 

Stewart told The Dallas Observer that he thought that the debate around all-ages drag shows served as a distraction for conservatives.

“It’s a distraction from passing laws that need to be passed,” he told the outlet. “If we’re really looking at ways to keep children safe, there are many other ways we should be focusing our resources on. Let’s keep them safe in schools and safe from guns. Drag queens have never been the issue. If they [conservative lawmakers] get people riled up over things like this, they don’t have to address the real issues.”

Jackie Richardson is a freelance writer based in Western New York. She has worked at The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, and The Sophian.

Read More About:
Politics, Power, News, Drag, United States

Keep Reading

People attend a candlelight vigil for 16-year-old Nex Benedict on February 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

‘What if I’m next?’ Canadian trans youth see Nex Benedict’s death as a warning

Young people say adults, schools and politicians are failing them

What we owe trans youth when we grieve them

How do we mourn people we’ve never met, yet feel inextricably connected to? How do we honour the dead without appropriating their stories?

Why you should worry about age verification laws

OPINION: Calls to restrict access to supposed adult content should be called out for their true intentions: relegating queer content to the shadows
A person's legs and feet are seen on a rainbow crosswalk; their shadow is visible.

More municipalities likely to follow Alberta town’s lead with crosswalk ban

OPINION: The structure in place that allowed for Westlock’s “neutrality” petition and bylaw shows the darker side of populism that people don’t like to talk about