The Domino Effect of Desantis’ Drag Ban

June 14, 2023
8 mins read

Words by Su Ertekin-Taner

On May 17, Florida turned a deeper shade of red. Now signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate Bill 1438, blatantly coined Florida’s “anti-drag bill,” defines restrictions on public food service establishments and lodging establishments that admit children to “adult live performance[s],” or “any show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience which … depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities” like “lewd content, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.” 


The law, signed just days in advance of DeSantis’ announcement of his presidential bid, outlines permitting provisions: a “governmental entity” may not issue a permit to persons who plan to conduct “adult live performance[s]” and may punish permit recipients who conduct such performances with a first degree misdemeanor. Further, SB 1438 grants the Division of Hotels and Restaurants of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation the authority to fine, suspend or revoke the venue’s license, as well as giving the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco the authority to revoke or suspend its liquor license, and in doing so, plunges Florida into crimson territory. 


Indeed, InCahoots Nightclub owner Staci Ybarra and activist, philanthropist and award-winning drag performer Karrissa T. Wade are seeing red. 


Wade and Ybarra attribute blemished businesses and pride to the law’s cloudy language, specifically its vague treatment of “adult live performance.” For Ybarra, the drag community is “being put on hold”: venues, like Hamburger Mary’s, that feature drag performers are becoming more cautious of their attendees and events for fear of having their licenses revoked. While Ybara knows her 18+ nightclub won’t be affected, she vocalized her anger for other LGBTQ businesses that are: “I think it’s offensive that you’re willing to snatch a business’s liquor license,” she added, “That to me is disgusting that you are using your political opinions to destroy a businesses.”


A slew of pride events are also canceling across the state. So far, victims of this law’s language include Tampa, St. Cloud, Port St. Lucie, and Treasure Coast pride: Wade hopes these dominoing cancellations won’t affect Jacksonville’s October pride. “We are seeing quite a few venues that are starting to close down and worry and some of my [venues] are putting things on hold,” she said. “A lot of people are looking to see how this is going to pan out … but now is not the time to cancel Pride.” 


But fear won’t be the salve for this law; neither will permanent adaptation. The only salve is equality which necessitates the representation, protection and courage of the drag community: Ybara sees drag queens fighting against the law by voting, writing letters to politicians, starting lawsuits. In Cahoots itself will host a Pride party on Stonewall Weekend and continue its drag performances five nights a week. “They’re not stopping us, honey!” 


Meanwhile, Wade hopes to alleviate some of the financial burden of job loss in the LGBTQ and drag community with the Your Love Drag Fund. The fund will offer job training, education and programs to teach ways to supplement income. They also plan to spread drag’s love across Jacksonville through drag brunches and performances while encouraging their community to vote, protest and call their political leaders. “We will not back down. We will not go quietly in the night. We’re not going to be silent. We’re going to be out there, and we’re going to be ourselves,” Wade pronounced. “[The law is] totally unconstitutional, and it can be fought. And it will be fought.”


On the topic of Jacksonville Pride, Wade added, “If you [Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation] cancel our permits, and you’re more than welcome to do so, I will raise the funds up to book a private venue, a private party and do it my way. If it’s a private event, there ain’t a damn thing you can say about it.”


Regardless, allies must act to overrule a developing history of hate and help drag blossom. “It’s up to our younger individuals, it’s up to our community, our allies to say, ‘we support you, we love you, and we’re not going to let this happen to you.” 


Staci Ybara’s Story


Jacksonville native Stacy Ybara is a drag viewer veteran. As a spectator, Ybara’s drag show portfolio extends from local to international performances. Yet, Florida’s drag remains special for the drag bar owner not only in terms of personal connection but vivacity of performance. Ybara notes Florida’s highly-ranked drag performances saturated with hard-hitting and major title holder performers and a high level of drag. Of course, the “hands-on” owner’s love of Florida drag — emphasized by her admiration of the drag performer’s ability to “take on a whole new persona…and put it on a stage” — translates into a fierce protection of the drag community. Staci Ybara won’t quietly digest SB 1438. 


She impugns the law’s blanket-like and vague nature. For a law so focused on the act of defining, Ybara argues that SB 1438 does exactly the opposite: obscures. First, Ybara noticed the drag community, its restaurants and businesses, as well as Pride events “being put on hold” due to the law’s vague definition of “adult live performance, ” she said. “Have them set a standard guideline of what is and isn’t appropriate and then let the businesses make their choices. And those guidelines need to be for the children about the children, not about gays, not about drag queens in general.” 


Ybara added, “It needs to leave Pride events and outside social events alone.” She also notes restaurants that have not proven to show nudity or sexual content should not be included in the law. 


While Ybara conceded that young children shouldn’t be at a bar with half-dressed entertainers of any kind, she refuted the law’s focus on all children. A lower age limit for drag show attendees might ease some of Ybara’s concerns, but overall, she said, “I think they need to stay out of parents’ rights … and I think they need to let people raise their own children.” The law’s focus on protecting all children’s innocence seems to target the LGBTQIA+ community, as well, while other sexual content in different spaces seems acceptable. Ybara used recently canceled Pride events in Tampa, St. Cloud and St. Lucie as examples. “[Kids] can lose their innocence going to Hooters. They could lose their innocence going to concerts. They could lose their innocence going to their backyard where their parents are throwing parties. There are a lot of ways that kids could lose their innocence. Drag queens are not taking their innocence from them,” Ybara remarked.


In general, Ybara said the law is rooted in hatred of the LGBTQ+ community. She sees DeSantis’ “hatred’ ‘ agenda targeting businesses: “I think it’s offensive that you’re willing to snatch a business’s liquor license. That to me is disgusting that you are using your political opinions to destroy a business.” 


For Ybara, the hate also reaches Floridian children who deserve to know love. “‘Let kids be kids’ is a great idea. ‘Let kids feel hatred from their governor because you’re a bigot’ is not a slogan,” Ybarra said. “[DeSantis] is shoving his beliefs down Floridian’s throats and telling us to hate as much as he does.”


And Ybara sees the hatred spreading in the future: “I think he’s going to have other governors spread his hate that are of like mind,” she added, “I think you’re going to have states that stand behind the queens and states that are going to try to push them out.” Regardless, the queens will keep fighting through protesting, through voting, through writing letters, through starting lawsuits. “These queens, they’ve been in the closet for too long. They’re not going to sit back for too much longer,” she said. “They’re not stopping us, honey!”


Karissa T. Wade’s Story


For Dickson, Tennessee native and drag queen Karissa T. Wade, acceptance was not the norm throughout their childhood and adolescence. As the preacher’s child in a primitive Baptist church, Wade spent much of their youth filtering through religious and societal beliefs incompatible with their gender identity and sexuality … starting with those taught by their own family: “My whole life my father preached sermon after sermon after sermon about what an abomination I was while looking at me.” Of course, Tennessee’s “archaic” laws requiring female impersonators, female performers or transgender women to wear an article of male clothing at all times also discouraged gender exploration for Wade. 


But drag in college served as an asylum from societal repression. Wade, mesmerized by club life and the tight knit nature of the drag community, started performing during talent nights and eventually worked their way up to full time performer. Nashville, New Orleans, Tampa, Daytona and finally Jacksonville witnessed the comedy queen’s routines and carefully planned performances. 


Now, Wade uses drag as a platform for community involvement, charity, outreach and fundraising. Wade, who worked at UNF’s LGBTQ Center, organizes and performs in live shows at Hamburger Mary’s to raise money for the LGBTQIA+ community and recently launched the Your Love Drag Fund which provides job training, education and programs for marginalized gender and sexual identities affected by anti-LGBTQ laws.


Undoubtedly, Wade has a Herculean attachment to drag — one that won’t be divorced by SB 1438. Wade’s flame of resistance burns bright; it is tenacious and unyielding. One of their first acts of protest: expressing the double standard inherent in the law’s application. The “blanket law” treats all drag events analogously, prohibiting even those lacking vulgarity like, Wade pointed out, Hamburger Mary’s family-friendly drag brunches (that now don’t admit minors) and Pride parades. Yet, truly “vulgar” environments are not policed in the same way. “A lot of times the things we are so worried about our kids being exposed to are from the people who we would least expect. Go back and look at so many pedophilia cases. It is people of power in certain situations: politicians … religious officials,” they said. 


But really, the drag icon’s flame of resistance blazes to protect love. Despite experiencing much pain during their childhood and adolescence, Wade sees drag boiling down to pure love and its preservation: “For me, [drag is] saving people’s lives. For me, it is being able to let people understand that it’s OK to be you, to share my story of sexual abuse, violence, domestic violence, of being tortured and abused, to share my story of hatred, to share my story of self-harm and to be able to tell people you will survive this. You are going to be incredible.”


For Wade, younger generations of marginalized gender identities and sexualities especially deserve to feel the love that DeSantis’ political agenda fueled by the desire for a “fear vote” inhibits. “Lots of businesses are going 18 and up, but it’s a shame because younger people need to see it’s OK to be who you are,” they said.


Nevertheless, Pride Month marches on. There are drag brunches to be hosted, fundraisers to be arranged and an opening pitch to be thrown at an upcoming Jumbo Shrimp game for the ever-busy, ever-active Wade. “Pride will never die as long as we have one person believing in [it],” Wade said.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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