HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge in Montana on Friday temporarily blocked a new law restricting drag performances, just days before thousands of people are expected to celebrate Montana Pride’s 30th anniversary in Helena.
The way the law is worded “will disproportionately harm not only drag performers, but any person who falls outside of traditional gender and identity norms,” including transgender people, US District Court Judge Brian Morris said .
The law aims to ban minors from attending so-called “sexually oriented” performances, and it bans such performances in public places where minors may be present. However, many of the terms used in the law are not sufficiently defined, leading people to censor themselves for fear of prosecution, the plaintiff’s attorney, Constance Van Kley of Upper Seven Law, argued Wednesday.
“Plaintiffs and the approximately 15,000 Montana residents who wish to attend the (Montana Pride) events cannot avoid suppressing their speech or exposing themselves to possible civil or criminal liability,” Morris wrote without the injunction.
The ruling will allow Montana Pride to promote and hold some of its events in public locations, said Kevin Hamm, President of Montana Pride. The annual LGBTQ+ celebration – which includes a parade, street dancing and drag brunch – begins on Sunday and lasts until August 6.
“The wording used in the (preliminary injunction) is impressive and should serve as a warning against discriminatory action by legislators in the future,” Hamm said.
A lawsuit submitted on July 6th questions its constitutionality and seeks an injunction to block it. The lawsuit was later amended to add the City of Helena as a defendant and Montana Pride as a plaintiff to address the more urgent request for an injunction. Montana Pride worked with the city to obtain permits to hold their public events.
The City of Helena supported the injunction, saying the law enables the city to violate Montana Pride’s constitutional rights to free speech by withholding permits, or subjecting city employees to civil and criminal liability under the law, if they allow permission. The lawsuit allows a minor who attends an illegal drag performance to file a civil lawsuit against the organizer or participant at any time for the following 10 years.
The lawsuit — whose first plaintiffs include a transgender woman, two small theaters and a bookstore that hosts drag queen reading events — bills Montana as “a stunningly ambiguous and overly broad-based bill motivated by an anti -LGBTQ+ animation”.
Judge Morris found that the statute may not adequately define illegal activity and likely “encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”
Montana law is flawed – like similar laws in Florida And Tennessee which have been blocked by courts — because they regulate speech based on its content and point of view, without considering its potential literary, artistic, political, or scientific value, Morris noted.
“Drag is definitely political and artistic speech,” said Diana Bourgeois, President of the Montana State Imperial Sovereign Court, an organization that hosts drag reading events, and one of the plaintiffs. “Today’s court order protects our right to be commentators and artists and to create a safe, joyful and welcoming environment through our expression.”
Like many Republican-run states, Montana’s conservative lawmakers have passed other anti-transgender laws. The state is part of it Prohibit gender-equitable care for minors – which is also being challenged in court. A bill was also passed Define gender only as “male” or “female” in state law.
With the law, Montana also became the first state to specifically ban drag kings and drag queens — including artists who assume an extravagant or parodic male or female personality with glamorous or over-the-top costumes and makeup — from children in public schools or libraries Reading books aloud, even if the performances don’t have a sexual element.
The judge said the law does not define terms such as “extravagant,” “parodistic,” or “glamorous,” among other things.
Morris has scheduled a hearing on the lawsuit’s request for an injunction for August 26, which could continue to block the law while the case goes to court.
“We look forward to presenting our written response and full argument at the upcoming injunction hearing to defend the law and protect minors from sexually oriented performances,” Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in a statement.
Proponent of the bill, Republican Rep. Braxton Mitchell, has said that “keeping hypersexualized events out of taxpayer-funded schools and libraries” does not violate the First Amendment for him or his constituents.