Famed restaurant Hamburger Mary’s sues Florida over DeSantis drag ban hurting business

A famous drag show restaurant has filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis, claiming a bill that prohibits children’s attendance at drag shows has hurt its business and is a violation of the First Amendment.

Hamburger Mary’s Orlando, a franchise location of the drag show restaurant chain Hamburger Mary’s, is alleging that the state of Florida, “Seeks to explicitly restrict or chill speech and expression protected by the First Amendment” in a lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida on Monday.

The lawsuit pertains to SB 1438, nicknamed the Protection of Children, which allows for criminal penalties against a food service establishment for admitting children to “an adult live performance.”

The bill, which was signed into law by Mr DeSantis last week, prohibits children from attending adult live performances or the establishment can face fines, have their license suspended or revoked and their liquor license suspended or revoked.

Hamburger Mary’s Orlando offers “family friendly” drag performances on Sundays, which they say have been greatly affected by the passage of SB 1438.

“This bill has nothing to do with children, and everything to do with the continued oppression of the LGBTQ+ community,” Hamburger Mary’s Orlando wrote in a Facebook post.

In the lawsuit, Hamburger Mary’s Orlando said “immediately” after the bill passed, 20 per cent of their bookings were cancelled for the 21 May 2023 show as well as future bookings despite the performances being “family friendly.”

Hamburger Mary’s Orlando is alleging in the lawsuit that the bill does not serve a compelling governmental interest and is too vague, thus violating the restaurant’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

“The law and anticipation of it has had a chilling effect on free speech in Florida,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit names Mr DeSantis, the state of Florida, as well as Melanie Griffin, the Secretary of the State Department of Business and Professional Regulation for Florida, as defendants.

The recent Protection of Children bill defines “adult live performance” as any presentation in front of a live audience where a part of it depicts sexual activity, sexual conduct, nudity, lewd exposure, lewd conduct, prosthetic or imitation genitals and more.

Hamburger Mary’s Orlando claims, “There is no lewd activity, sexually explicit shows, disorderly conduct, public exposure, obscene exhibition, or anything inappropriate for a child to see” in their family-friendly brunches.

The restaurant claims several undercover agents visited a drag brunch in December and did not witness “any lewd acts” that were inappropriate for children.

Hamburger Mary’s Orlando is also alleging that the state of Florida has not provided examples of specific conduct that is harmful to children.

“The uncertainty about what specific conduct this law prohibits, as well as the threat of police surveillance and criminal charges, is precisely what concerns the Plaintiff in this case,” the lawsuit says.

Instead, Hamburger Mary’s Orlando believes this is another example of conservative leaders trying to restrict LGBT+ inclusivity in communities.

“Anytime our legislators want to demonize a group, they say they are coming for your children. In this case, creating a false narrative that drag queens are grooming and recruiting your children with no factual basis or history to back up these accusations AT ALL,” Hamburger Mary’s Orlando wrote on Facebook.

“They are setting a precedent that the state legislators [sic] can decide what is best for you based on THEIR own values and convictions, and write it into law,” Hamburger Mary’s Orlando added.

The Independent has reached out to Hamburger Mary’s Orlando and Mr DeSantis’ office for comment.