Orlando restaurant Hamburger Mary’s files lawsuit over anti-drag bill, citing free speech concerns

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A national burger joint in Orlando filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida on Monday, claiming that their restaurant has been deprived of its First Amendment rights and lost customers due to a new law affecting drag shows in the state.

Hamburger Mary’s regularly hosted drag shows for the past 15 years. Its owners say the law, titled “Protection of Children,” has “nothing to do with children, and everything to do with the continued oppression of the LGBTQ+ community,” in a post written on their Facebook page.

SB 1483, signed by DeSantis last week, bans children from attending “sexually explicit adult performances in all venues – including drag shows and strip clubs,” and gives the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation authority to penalize and suspend liquor licenses of venues that admit children under the age of 18 to “adult live performances.”

The bill defines “adult live performances” as “any show, exhibition or other presentation that is performed in front of a live audience and in whole or in part depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, specific sexual activities […] lewd conduct or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

In the lawsuit, Hamburger Mary’s Orlando co-owners Mike Carpenter and John Paonessa argue that SB 1483′s phrasing unconstitutionally infringes upon free speech, stating: “The language used in the statute is mean to be and is primarily vague and indistinct.”

A sentiment that Orlando Rep. Anna Eskamani agrees with.

“It is vague,” the Democrat said in an email response to Reckon. “And that is designed to create a chilling effect on all drag performances.”

According to the lawsuit, Hamburger Mary’s saw 20% of their bookings cancelled this past Sunday.

“In addition to the loss of customers cancelling, the establishment has had to ban children from the family-friendly performances because they simply cannot take the chance that their business or liquor licenses would be suspended for hosting a drag show where children attend,” read the lawsuit. “The criminal penalties of the law put individuals at risk of prosecution because of the content of their speech.”

Along with SB 1438, DeSantis signed three other bills that affect Florida’s LGBTQ+ population last week.

SB 254 restricts gender-affirming care for transgender adults and children, HB 1521 requires people to use bathrooms according to their sex assigned at birth and HB 1557 bans the teaching of gender identity and sexuality in public schools.

The wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been a large part of DeSantis’ agenda as he launched his 2024 presidential campaign on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a fundraiser on GoFundMe has been created to assist with Hamburger Mary’s legal defense. As of this writing, the fund has raised more than $26,000.

Naina Rao

Naina Rao

Naina Rao is Reckon's daily news reporter. She formerly worked at NPR producing for Morning Edition and the Culture Desk, and has experience covering Religion, Arts & Culture, and international news. Naina is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, proficient in Malay, and is working on her Hindi.

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