Scrolling through Maxine LaQueene’s Instagram, viewers find post after post of LaQueene in bright ensembles and bold makeup, performing in front of a cheering crowd. Going even further, viewers also see videos of LaQueene being physically kicked out of the Texas Senate chambers for protesting Senate Bill 12 at the Capitol building in Austin.
Now, three months after SB 12 was struck down as unconstitutional, LaQueene said she envisions a time for celebration and recovery after fighting with lawmakers to secure her rights as a drag performer.
Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 12 into law in June. Under the bill, all “sexually oriented” performances are prohibited on the premises of a commercial establishment, on public property or with the participation of a minor. The bill does not explicitly use the term “drag,” but states that men dressing as women or women dressing as men in a public performance would violate the law and result in civil or criminal penalties.
In August, a federal judge ruled SB 12 unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment, while reviewing a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas against the attorney general. The judge’s ruling means that no Texas government official can enforce SB 12.
“We’ve been through the rigors of the political climate in Texas,” LaQueene said. “I feel more educated. I mean, every show I do, I talk about SB 12, I tell people, ‘baby, if you’re not registered to vote, we need to register to vote.’
ACLU of Texas He filed a lawsuit in August with five plaintiffs leading the lawsuit. 360 Queen EntertainmentThe company, owned by Richard Montez and David Gamez, produces drag shows in San Antonio and was one of the bidders.
“We were hearing rumblings in the media about this drag ban and all the vitriolic language being used to describe drag and all these different pieces, and we felt like we wanted to respond right away,” Montez said.
Montez said the real catalyst for him and Gamez getting involved in the feud was when people started disrupting the shows they put on at his family’s restaurant.
“We had a situation where, even though SB 12 hadn’t become law yet, we had a client who was convinced that what we were doing was already illegal,” Montez said.
After calling the police and telling the man that 360 Queen Entertainment wasn’t doing anything illegal, Montez said the man looked at him and said, “It may not be illegal now, but it will be someday.”
“That will always be a key memory because I feel like some of these people are very confident,” Montez said.
The biggest concern of the bill’s opponents was the vagueness of the language. Although the bill was initially presented as a law to prevent children from seeing drag shows, many performers were concerned that other drag shows would potentially be on the chopping block, regardless of audience age.
Had SB 12 not been blocked, any company hosting a public drag performance could have been fined $10,000. Performers can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, potentially sending them up to a year in jail with a $4,000 fine.
If SB 12 were to pass, formal drag shows would not be the only performances banned, LaQueene said.
“There would be no Mrs. Doubtfire,” LaQueene said. “There would be no drag on SNL. Anything to do with a public form of drag would be outlawed, and then that would trickle down to any kind of cross-dressing, you know, acting, theater, that sort of thing.
Austin drag performer Scarlet Sagamore said SB 12 will completely change the landscape of drag.
“Just going to a concert and getting dragged out of my car is going to put us in danger, it’s ridiculous,” Sagamore said. “There are bars that partially overlook the public outside. We could not give concerts there. It would change a lot of what we do.”
Gamez said the bill’s language was so vague that even though 360 Queen Entertainment’s shows are for those over 18, he wasn’t sure what would happen if a child watched a performance.
“Our shows are held in a public place where kids can see drag queens,” Gamez said. “Because our restaurant is close to the highway, someone can pass by. Boom could look out the car window and see a drag show going on.
LaQueene said it’s not just drag queens and businesses targeted by SB 12, but the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
“It goes through the drag,” LaQueene said. “Because in that bill, a person who represents a gender that was not assigned at birth or who does not show an identification card or birth certificate can receive a fine or a penalty.”
Despite SB 12 being blocked by a federal judge, Sen. Bryan Hughes, who authored the bill, said he would defend it, even if it meant going to the U.S. Supreme Court.
With the upcoming presidential election in 2024 and a new senate session two years later, drag performers and activists are wondering what’s next.
“Our community needs to take the rest of the year and really just take a break,” LaQueene said. “Celebrate the small victories in life because that’s what it is. We celebrate the small victory that SB 12 was blocked. That way, we can all go to our shows a little less worried about reactions.
For those who want to stand with drag performers as they continue to fight, Montez said speaking out, championing the cause and engaging with the community are essential to making a difference.
Whether it’s posting on social media or registering people to vote, Montez said it’s important to use collective action to protect the basic rights of LGBTQ+ citizens in the United States.
“As scary as it is, we have to keep strengthening,” Montez said. “We have to keep elevating what we do every time.”