Of the 544 photos on John Paonessa’s Instagram account, most are promos for “Dining with the Divas,” “Broadway Brunch” and other drag-and-dinner shows at the Hamburger Mary’s location he co-owns in Orlando. , fl. . That all changed earlier this week, when he released the text of his lawsuit against the state of Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis, alleging that a recently passed law had a significant effect on the restaurant’s business.
Earlier this month, DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 1438 in Florida. That legislation, called “Child Protection,” would allow the state to withdraw liquor licenses, or potentially even close, restaurants, bars, or other establishments that allow children to attend what it deems to be adult-themed live performances, including any event that “represents or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual arousal, specific sexual activities.”
Although the text of the bill does not specifically mention drag performances, they could still be included in its broad description of adult performances. “[The law] does not mention ‘drag’ by name, but is broad enough to include this art form in the state’s interpretation under the newly created or amended laws at issue,” Paonessa’s lawsuit states.
“This bill has nothing to do with children and everything to do with the continued oppression of the LGBTQ+ community,” Paonessa wrote on Instagram. “Every time our legislators want to demonize a group, they say they are coming for their children. In this case, creating a false narrative that drag queens are grooming and recruiting their children with no factual basis or history to back up these allegations AT ALL!
Paonessa said reservations at her Hamburger Mary’s restaurant were down 20% as they had to stop allowing parents to bring children to their Sunday Broadway Brunches, where cross-dressing performers sing songs and other Broadway favorites.
“It’s having an impact on the business,” he said. ClickOrlando. “There is nothing wrong with drag queens that affects any family, children, there is no nudity in these shows. There is no toilet. It’s a false narrative that’s being placed on drag shows.”
The first Hamburger Mary’s opened in San Francisco in 1972, and as of this writing, there are 13 of the drag-themed restaurants in eight states. In addition to the Orlando location, there are three other Hamburger Mary’s in Florida.
Until the courts intervene in this lawsuit, Paonessa has said that anyone who wants to support the restaurant can attend one of its shows (although it no longer welcomes those under 18, performances will continue) or make a donation to its GoFundMe to Help cover your legal fees. Any donations left over after this court battle will be “distributed to local LGBTQ+ organizations and charities.”
SB 1438 officially goes into effect on Saturday, July 1.