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Last week in LGBTQ+ rights: Federal court upholds injunction against Florida drag ban

The White House released a statement commemorating the 25th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.

By Will Fritz - October 17, 2023
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In this Friday, June 26, 2015 file photo, people gather in Lafayette Park to see the White House illuminated with rainbow colors in commemoration of the Supreme Court's ruling to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

This series is a weekly roundup of LGBTQ-related news, covering various laws and bans, as well as efforts to push back against them.

Federal appeals court upholds ruling blocking Florida drag ban

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 11 upheld a ruling blocking Florida’s drag ban law from taking effect.

Enforcement of Senate Bill 1438, the “Protection of Children Act,” was initially blocked in June by a ruling from U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell of the Middle District of Florida, who said the law applied too broadly.

The 11th Circuit’s ruling found Florida Secretary of Business and Professional Regulation Melanie Griffin appeal of Presnell’s ruling did not sufficiently make the case as to why the injunction on the law should be overturned.

The law bars venues from allowing children into what it calls “adult live performances,” which it describes as shows or performances that depict or simulate a “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or specific sexual activities, … lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

SB 1438 doesn’t mention drag specifically, but critics have pointed out the vagueness of the law could ban a whole host of events including drag shows. The bill’s Republican sponsor even admitted the ban could apply to live performances of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The owners of Hamburger Mary’s in Orlando, which frequently holds drag performances, filed the lawsuit against the state of Florida challenging the law.

The 11th Circuit’s decision only upholds the injunction against Florida’s law. Later cases will resolve the law’s actual legality.

White House honors 25th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death

President Joe Biden on Oct. 12 released a statement commemorating the 25th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard.

In a case that garnered massive attention from the news media at the time, Shepard, a gay 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was brutally beaten by two men and succumbed to his injuries six days later.

“Twenty-five years ago today, Matthew Shepard lost his life to a brutal act of hate and violence that shocked our nation and the world. The week prior, Matthew had been viciously attacked in a horrific anti-gay hate crime and left to die – simply for being himself,” Biden said in the White House statement. “Matthew’s tragic and senseless murder shook the conscience of the American people.”

Shepard’s two attackers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, were both sentenced to life prison terms for first degree murder; Henderson was also found guilty of kidnapping. Neither were prosecuted for hate crimes despite testimony that the attack was triggered by homophobia. To this day, Wyoming still does not have a law on the books allowing prosecutors to consider an assailant’s biases against race, sex, sexual orientation or any other protected classes.

In 2009, then-President Barack Obama signed the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extends federal hate crime laws to cover attacks motivated by victims’ sexual orientation, gender identity and disabilities.

Biden’s statement also honored Shepard’s parents’ work to fight anti-LGBTQ+ hate after their son’s death and noted the increased threats the LGBTQ+ community has faced in recent years.

“No American should face hate or violence for who they are or who they love,” Biden said in the statement. “I once again call on Congress to send the Equality Act to my desk so that we can ensure LGBTQI+ Americans have full civil rights protections under our laws — because every American is worthy of dignity, acceptance and respect.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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