DeSantis Push to Punish Restaurant for Drag Shows Prompts Parents Pushback

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is being criticized by some parents and lawmakers after he targeted a restaurant for hosting drag shows in the presence of children.

One parent pointed out DeSantis is being contradictory for allowing parents to choose whether their children should wear face masks, when health officials recommended to do so, during the highest peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, but then interfering with parents' choice to take children to see drag shows.

"If I choose to bring my daughter to a drag show, [and] that business will be the one penalized for my choice. I mean, I really don't see the correlation," Nicole Alvarez said, according to Local 10. "[DeSantis] has always expressed that parents have a right to choose for their children, that private businesses have a right to conduct business as they see fit. Honestly, this is an overreach."

Alvarez's comments come after the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed a complaint on Tuesday against R House, a restaurant and lounge in Miami's Wynwood that has a gallery for art exhibits and a stage for shows.

Parents criticize DeSantis for punishing restaurant over-drag-queen-shows
Ron DeSantis is being criticized by some parents and lawmakers after he targeted a restaurant for hosting drag shows in the presence of children. Above, DeSantis speaks during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit held at the Tampa Convention Center on July 22 in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The division threatened to revoke R House's liquor license for violating a state statute that it says deems the restaurant as a "nuisance" as it "manifestly injurious to the morals and manners of the people."

DeSantis defended the complaint against R House during a press conference on Wednesday in Tampa, Florida, saying "having kids involved in this is wrong."

"That is not consistent with our law and policy in the state of Florida and it is a disturbing trend in our society to try to sexualize these young people. That is not the way you look out for our children, you protect children, you do not expose them to things that are inappropriate," DeSantis said.

However, state Representative Anna Eskamani argued that the governor is specifically targeting drag shows as he remained silent about other similar settings.

"Drag shows under attack again, meanwhile no commentary from the Governor on bringing kids to Hooters," the Democratic representative tweeted in response to the filed complaint. "According to this logic, it's only sexually explicit if it's LGBTQ+. Why can't FL focus on solving real problems vs. creating new ones?"

Still, DeSantis said on Wednesday that R House's drag shows are "sexually explicit," and that the bar had a children's menu.

The restaurant hosts the "Drag Extravaganza" on stage on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It also has a "Drag Show Brunch" that has been held on Saturdays and Sundays since 2017, according to the complaint that added that the event is advertised in the restaurant's kids brunch menu which promotes the show for children "up to 12 years of age."

In backing its argument to revoke R House's liquor license, the division cited a number of incidents throughout this month in which drag performers were seen or filmed accompanying children through the dining area or dancing during "Brunch" performances that the division said has a "sexualized nature" that is "pervasive."

"The prominent feature of the Brunch is that male performers dress in traditionally male clothing and perform dances while brunch is served. The clothing and dances typically are sexually suggestive and sometimes sexually explicit—consistent with what one would observe at an adult-themed nightclub," the complaint read.

However, Alex Fernandez, who performs at R House under the stage name Maritrini, said that the drag shows are a form of artistic expression and are not sexually explicit, according to Local 10.

The division also pointed out a number of instances where drag performers were dressed in bikinis with dollar bills sticking out from their bikini bottoms, with the latest incident taking place on Saturday when a division investigator found a young girl "who was seen recoiling and turning away in her seat as a brunch performer climbed on the back of the child's bench, squatted, and gyrated a couple of feet above the child's head."

The restaurant said that it's currently working with an attorney to "rectify the situation" in response to the complaint, according to local news station WESH. R House described the governor as a "vociferous supporter and champion of Florida's hospitality industry and small businesses," and hoped that he "will see this as what it is, a misunderstanding, and that the matter will be resolved positively and promptly."

Newsweek reached out to the governor's office for comment.