A Texas bill would allow anyone to sue people who perform in drag where minors are present—or sue someone who hosts such a performance—and collect $5,000 in damages plus attorneys fees, whether or not a minor was brought to the performance by their parent or guardian. The vagueness of the proposed law means it could incentivize Texans to sue transgender and nonbinary people for simply existing in public.
If this bounty hunter scheme sounds familiar to you, it’s because Texas used the same concept to effectively end abortion in the state in September 2021, months before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Since there’s no state officials enforcing the law, there’s no one to sue before the law takes effect, making it practically impossible to get it blocked.
House Bill 4378 was filed earlier this month by State Rep. Steve Toth (R) with one co-sponsor, State Rep. Greg Bonnen. HB 4378 was referred to the state affairs committee on March 21, but no further action had been taken as of publication time. The Intercept highlighted the bill on Friday, and various Texas publications and LGBTQ outlets have written about it, but it hasn’t received the national attention it should.
The bill text defines a drag performance as “a performance in which a performer exhibits a gender that is different than the performer’s gender recorded at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs in a lascivious manner before an audience.” And the word “lascivious” in the bill means “conduct of a sexual nature that is offensive to community standards of decency.” You can see how these very broad definitions could lead to people suing someone who they simply think is transgender as well as those who are dressed in full drag at a brunch or story hour.
Journalist Erin Reed noted that the bill could stop trans performers like Kim Petras from holding concerts, or instance, or any trans person from doing karaoke.
The bill is a horrific reminder of the fact that anti-LGBTQ activists often draw directly from the anti-abortion playbook. That’s because the movements share a common goal: sex existing only in heterosexual marriages for the purposes of procreation.