When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis escalated his war on drag entertainment, R House was target number one.
A video of a child holding hands with a drag performer during a show was taken out of context. DeSantis used his bully pulpit to vilify them, and his henchmen secretly prowled around looking for something, anything, that would prove children were in danger.
What did they find? Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch.
Now, after 14 months of harassment, R House is declaring victory.
“We finally got them off our back,” said Athena Dion, who runs the popular drag brunch at the Wynwood restaurant. “We put up a good fight against the governor and made sure he doesn’t mess with us again because we’re not doing anything wrong.”
The settlement contains no admission or finding of guilt for R House, according to the restaurant.
“We are pleased to confirm that the state’s extensive undercover investigation of R House found no unlawful sexually explicit content at R House shows.”
The investigation, launched by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, could have cost R House its liquor license, effectively putting them out of business.
R House will pay a $10,000 “administrative fine,” essentially paying for the state’s investigation of them. But R House reiterates the fine, “…did not result from the finding of any violation of any administrative or criminal laws.”
Dion, known as the Greek Goddess of the Miami drag circuit, said the LGBT community needs to be more upbeat and vigilant in defending its rights and freedom.
“You have to figure out how to combat the negative stuff they are saying by being as positive and proactive as possible,” she said. “We’re trying for that visibility. To outshine the negativity that’s coming from the other side. It’s almost like killing them with kindness. Try to prove them wrong by just being the example.”
DeSantis and his minions also harassed major venues in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando. The legislature rubber-stamped his law to effectively kill drag entertainment in Florida.
Hamburger Mary’s is challenging the law in federal court and a judge placed it on hold, saying it will likely be found unconstitutional. DBPR cases against the Arsht Center, Broward Center, and The Plaza Live in Orlando over a drag-themed holiday show are still pending.
But just the threat is enough to harm the LGBTQ and drag communities. Several Prides took Draconian measures to avoid the governor’s wrath. Some canceled parades, one had a big, black tarp covering the fence so no one could see inside.
The holiday drag show is skipping the state altogether this year, and many South Florida drag queens say bookings are down because venues are still being cautious.
John McDonald contributed to this story.