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City leaders fear proposed ban on drag shows threatens beloved Fiesta event

The city of San Antonio formally opposes a bill that would ban some drag performances.

SAN ANTONIO — The city of San Antonio formally opposes a proposal that would ban some drag shows in places where children might see them. 

The bill aims to shield minors from "sexually oriented" performances, but defines such obscenity using a complicated legal standard judges have wrestled with for decades. 

It's not clear who'd get to decide whether a show is "sexually oriented." The bill's opponents argue that designation is inherently subjective, since different things arouse different people. 

Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, presented the bill to a senate committee Thursday. 

"Drag shows are sexually explicit and expose children to issues of sexuality and identity that should be reserved for adults," he said. 

But the complicated definition for "sexually oriented" might outlaw satire performed in drag during Fiesta staples, such as Cornyation, city leaders fear. The measure could also prevent drag queens from marching during Pride Parade, they say. 

"It feels like we're back in the 1950s again," said Brian Hernandez, a drag queen. 

Hernandez acknowledged some "lewd and crude" drag performances are inappropriate for children. But that's not all that drag is, Hernandez argues.  

"Drag has its own spectrum," the queen said.

Hernandez noted that story hour, where queens read to children at libraries, is specifically designed to be family friendly.

"You see a performer at a library reading a children's book and they're dressed like Cinderella," Hernandez said. "How is that harming children?"

Under Hughes's bill, violators face misdemeanor charges. The state would fine businesses that admit children to "sexually oriented" drag shows up to $10,000. 

Drag performers say the legislation targets queer people.

"They're trying to erase queer lives," Hernandez said. "They're trying to put us back in the closet and we've spent decades trying to build up the courage to come out." 

Lawmakers have not yet decided whether Hughes's bill should clear its first legislative hurdle. 

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