TX House Bill 643
Texas Republican Rep. Jared Patterson proposes to ban drag performers and, unintentionally, more.
It didn’t take long after Texas Republicans swept the statewide races for the anti-LGBTQ bills to start flying in Austin. On November 14, Republican Rep. Jared Patterson, of the 106th District outside Dallas, a longtime anti-gay legislator, pre-filed HB 643 for the 2023–’24 Legislative Session. One of several anti-LGBTQ bills—and among 14 bills filed by Patterson—HB 643 seeks to expand the state’s definition of a “sexually oriented business” to include any venue that serves alcohol and hosts a “drag performance.” It describes a drag performance as when “a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s assigned gender at birth, using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment.”
As a sexually oriented business, the venue would have to be registered as such, pay a registration fee with an annual renewal, and prohibit children at all times, not just when drag is being performed. Any venue owners found in violation of the bill, if passed, could be fined $4,000 and sentenced to up to a year in jail.
“House Bill 643 is absurd,” says Christopher Barry, owner of BUDDY’S, a popular gay bar in Houston. “What drag queens pull out of their closets shouldn’t affect Jared ‘Petty’ Patterson.”
BUDDY’S award-winning Tuesday Trivia Night is hosted by drag queens Muffy Blake Vanderbilt III and Jacklyn Dior, who coordinate their outfits based on the trivia theme. As Barry says, “This is trivia, not a sex show.”
“It’s nothing more than a legislative hate crime,” says Grey Stephens, owner of Houston’s Crocker Bar and 2.0. “They are targeting people who have done absolutely nothing to hurt anyone whatsoever. We pass laws to protect people from traffic accidents or guns, but trans people? Why?”
While HB 643 seems like a pretty straightforward threat to drag shows, the language is so vague that it would prohibit traditional theater performances such as Cinderella, a family-friendly ballet where the ugly stepsisters are danced by male company members. Opera productions also have a long history of travesti, or trouser roles, where characters are portrayed by members of the opposite sex. Examples include the Count’s page Cherubino, in The Marriage of Figaro, and Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice, a role originally written for a castrato but usually sung by a female in modern times. Shakespeare plays are also known for their gender-bending roles.
The bill would also have the effect of prohibiting transgender performers from appearing onstage as their everyday selves.
“HB 643 is an extremely dangerous bill,” says Eden Rose Torres, a trans woman and executive director of PridePortraits.org. She is also a trained stage actress. “Its language, at first glance, appears to target drag queens exclusively. However, once you start to dissect the language you realize that this bill goes much further. This bill directly targets any human performing in any way that is presenting other than their sex assigned at birth. So therefore, this bill targets the trans and gender-expansive communities.
“As an actress who is transgender, this is alarming. I am currently in my first production since I transitioned—a play titled Strapped. If this law were in effect, our show and venue would be considered a sexually oriented business.
“As a trans woman, we have such little representation in the media. I fear this would [further] hinder Texas playwrights from not only writing trans characters, but casting transgender humans in roles, be they cis- or trans-identified characters. This would in turn further limit our means of employment, and result in yet another barrier to making a living outside of survival sex work.
“I am a proud, outspoken transgender woman, and I have also trained at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York. For my work to be devalued in this way, based on my gender identity, is dehumanizing. You can count on me being at the Texas Capitol testifying against this bill.”
While this bill seems absurd in its scope, Texas Monthly predicts that a rewritten bill, more narrowly defined, might actually surface during the 88th Legislative Session that starts in January. So far, the only Republican priorities for the session appear to be property taxes, voter fraud, and transgender rights.