LGBTQ Agenda: DeSantis administration seeks to revoke hotel's liquor license after it labels drag show a 'public nuisance'

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday March 21, 2023
Share this Post:
The publicity image for the "Drag Queen Christmas" show that took place in Miami last December. Image: Courtesy
The publicity image for the "Drag Queen Christmas" show that took place in Miami last December. Image: Courtesy

The administration of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) is trying to revoke the liquor license of a Miami hotel for supplying the concessions for a Christmas drag show where the state claims minors were present.

The show — "A Drag Queen Christmas" — was held December 27 at the James L. Knight Center, a large auditorium in Miami. Concessions were provided by the Hyatt Regency Miami. In so doing, the hotel became "manifestly injurious to the morals or manners of the people," stated the complaint from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and "corrupts the public morals and outrages the sense of public decency."

The tour featured several stars from Emmy-winning competition show "RuPaul's Drag Race" and took place across 36 U.S. cities. Minors were permitted if they were accompanied by an adult, as NBC News reported.

The 17-page complaint filed March 14 alleges that the drag show was legally obscene for five reasons: performers "rubbing their exposed prosthetic female breasts against the faces ... of audience members;" "exposing performers' prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience;" "exposing performers' buttocks;" "simulating masturbation;" and "graphic depictions of childbirth."

In a statement to the Bay Area Reporter, Amir Blattner, the general manager of the Hyatt Regency Miami, referred comment to the center.

"The event in reference was hosted at the city-owned James L. Knight Center, which is a third-party operated venue adjacent to Hyatt Regency Miami. All programming and ticketing is managed by the third-party operator; Hyatt's only role at the James L. Knight Center is to provide food and beverage concessions," Blattner stated.

Blattner stated that the hotel's alcohol license is still active.

"We can confirm the hotel's liquor license remains active and has not been revoked," Blattner stated. "We are reviewing this complaint and will address the situation directly with the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation as part of the administrative review process."

The Hyatt Regency did not respond to a follow-up question regarding its thoughts on the department's complaint. The Knight center did not respond to a request for comment for this report as of press time.

"A Drag Queen Christmas" has toured the U.S. since at least 2017. In 2019, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property — a traditionalist Roman Catholic group — sought to have a Kansas City, Missouri performance stopped with an online petition that garnered 13,000 signatures, according to the Advocate.

"To make matters worse, while the performance warns of this 'naughty' behavior, it also says 'all ages welcome,'" the group's petition stated.

Nina West, the "RuPaul's Drag Race" alum who hosted the Miami show, did not respond to a request for comment for this report as of press time. West called the complaint "absolutely absurd" in an Instagram story shared March 15, NBC News noted.

Growing pattern

DeSantis, who easily won reelection last November, is widely viewed as a 2024 GOP presidential candidate. This isn't the first time the DeSantis administration has gone after a venue in this manner: the same Florida department filed a complaint against the R House Wynwood in Miami last year, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, accusing it of being a "public nuisance" for also hosting a drag show where minors were present.

A clip from that drag show posted to TikTok prompted an outcry from conservatives, who in Tennessee recently passed a law that bans staging an "adult cabaret" on public property in the state as well as anywhere a child might be present. Several experts fear that could impact drag shows, as the state's pre-existing law defines adult cabaret as "a cabaret that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers," as the B.A.R. previously reported.

In February, the DeSantis administration filed a complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation for hosting the Christmas-themed drag event.

The complaint against the Hyatt Regency Miami cites a 1947 Florida court case (Fed. Amusement Co. v. State) in which a nightclub featuring "female impersonators" — the Ha Ha club — was forced to shut down because it was a "public nuisance."

Specifically, the complaint against the Hyatt Regency Miami stated that "the show featured numerous segments where performers engaged in acts of sexual conduct, simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays."

The show contained "sexually explicit themes and prurient content presented through perverted versions of popular children's Christmas songs," the complaint continued.

"These included an adaptation of 'All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth') that contained portrayals of oral fellatio, as well as the line 'I'll sit on his lap, he can put his milk and cookies all between my gap,'" the complaint stated. "The show also featured a performance of 'Screwdolph the Red-Nippled Reindeer.'"

First Amendment question

The 1947 case was before the United States Supreme Court and set a standard for determining obscenity in Miller v. California (1971).

In the Miller case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that obscene materials are not protected by the First Amendment, but lessened the definition of "obscene material."

For something to be obscene, and thus not covered by the First Amendment, it must appeal to the "prurient interest," that is, sexual appetites; lack "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value;" and describe "in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law."

In the complaint against the Hyatt Regency Miami, the Florida government referenced the so-called Miller test. For this report, the B.A.R. asked the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for comment, and specifically asked upon what grounds it can be held that a drag show lacks "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value." The department did not respond to this request as of press time.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.