One of the largest LGBTQ pride parades in Florida is implementing a dress code as organizers fear an ounce of excessive cleavage or an errant gesture near a performer's undercarriage could catch the watchful eye of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his decidedly drag-wary administration.
The Stonewall Pride Parade and Street Festival in Wilton Manors is scheduled for June 17 with a new code of conduct for parade participants, performers, and vendors to ensure that the event's organizers are not penalized under the newly signed SB 1438.
While the new law does not specifically mention drag shows, its conception was part and parcel of DeSantis' and his allies' response to videos of children attending drag performances in South Florida. The law provides for misdemeanor charges against organizers and event permitholders who "knowingly admit a child to an adult live performance." LGBTQ advocates see it as a continuation of the governor's attack on the LGBTQ community and drag queens.
The Wilton Manors parade organizers have responded by proposing restrictions on nipple pasties, prosthetic breasts, sexualized language, and provocative dancing and gestures. The rules would apply to those in the parade, not the 50,000 observers expected to attend.
"This is going to be a full coverage thing, so it's going to be across the top of the breast, underneath the breast, and the full sides — that's what it needs to be," says Jeffrey Sterling, CEO of Wilton Manors Entertainment Group (WMEG), which organizes the event. "Is that more than what someone at the beach wears? Sure, but we know we're being held to a different standard... We cannot be like Fantasy Fest."
The legislation was introduced in the Florida Senate in the aftermath of the DeSantis administration's threats to revoke the licenses of venues and bars that allowed minors to attend drag shows where performers wore revealing outfits or performed off-color comedy bits, including "A Drag Queen Christmas." In addition to criminal charges, the law lays out fines against venues that allow children to attend risque performances.
"We know [DeSantis] is after drag queens. But that doesn't say that in the law, so we can't just ignore what he is looking for," Sterling tells New Times. "We have to create a safe environment for everyone so that no one has to worry about the chance of arbitrary enforcement of the law. The more things we do that cross his moral code, the more things we risk: businesses losing licenses, employees losing jobs, and officials being recalled."
cancel its "Pride on the River" event in September over fears of violating the bill's overbroad and vague language. The City of Port St. Lucie scaled back its Treasure Coast PrideFest and limited festivities to those 21 years and older after the bill passed the statehouse, shortly before the governor signed it into law.
South Florida drag queen Yoko Oso says that she understands why Stonewall Pride in Wilton Manors is implementing the rules considering drag and LGBTQ-centered events are being thrust under a regulatory microscope.
"I do understand it in the sense that it is self-preservation for our queer community that is trying to persevere through a very tough political climate as it is," Oso tells New Times. "I think as artists, we shouldn't have to censor entirely all the time. However, because it is a public event and there's so much ire on the queer community, it is, in a sense, necessary."
While some performers may be disappointed by the restrictions, Sterling argues they are necessary to protect the "gay Mecca" of Wilton Manors, whose parade is one of Miami-Dade County's most anticipated and heavily attended events during LGBTQ Pride month.
"This is not an area where I can make everyone happy. I have to pick. I don't believe in what some of the other prides did. I think it was a mistake the whole folding and run," Sterling says. "We're the center of South Florida gayness, so for us not to stand up for ourselves would send a rippling effect across the state and South Florida."
Initially, there had been reports that drag queens would be barred from attending and performing at the parade after the Wilton Manors city commission voted to amend the event permit to specify that the organizers have to "comply with all applicable federal, state, county and municipal regulations."
In a recent letter to the editor in South Florida Gay News, city commissioner Chris Caputo quickly squashed the rumor and clarified that the permit was only amended at the direction of the city attorney because it had been signed before the new legislation was enacted. He said this was a "prudent decision to protect city employees" from being held liable and losing their jobs.
"Let me be clear: Drag queens are allowed at Stonewall, and we have not told WMEG that drag queens are prohibited from being a part of the event," Caputo wrote. "We've not asked WMEG to set an age requirement for entry, either. We're an inclusive city, and all are welcome at our cultural celebration."
Caputo added that he will perform in the drag parade as "Lady Vote."
Oso believes drag queens are being unfairly targeted, pointing to Hooters and other "family-friendly" venues outside the drag world that are not under scrutiny despite showcasing scantily dressed women around children. She says there is still "incensed rhetoric" about drag queens even when they are wearing floor-length gowns.
"There's a lot more skin being revealed in an Olympic diving competition," Oso tells New Times. "There is so much worse out there, but I feel that it is an unnecessary target because of where we are at this time of history. The LGBTQ community has been scapegoated before in history and where we've come to now is that people on this reactionary side of history have been emboldened again to reframe it."
State officials have attended the festival in the past, but Sterling says he expects to see a higher turnout of regulatory observers given today's political climate.
"They will be here," Sterling tells New Times. "Do I think they will be prowling for something even more? There's a good chance of it. I hope I'm wrong, but we have to plan for just what if worst-case scenario might play out. Poking the governor will accomplish nothing except giving [him] what he wants: the tools to spread more fear and damage within our community."