Wilton Manors Caves to DeSantis Over Drag Shows

Drag queens and other performers who work up and down Wilton Drive, filed into the city commission chamber at Wilton Manors City Hall.

They, along with other citizens, stood up and spoke out, urging commissioners to stand with them against the tyranny of Tallahassee.

In the end, the panel sympathized, empathized, and voted against them. 

The issue was amending the permit for Stonewall Pride Inc. to force compliance of a new law that expands the definition of “live adult entertainment” to include drag entertainment. The new permit language reads: “Organization responsibilities to Include language regarding a possible new state law pursuant to SB 1438 and HB 1423 (Florida 2023). These bills, which are anticipated to become law, prohibit performances in violation of section 827.11. Florida Statutes.”

The law is still being analyzed, but it likely means no public performances by drag queens.

Queens play an integral part in Stonewall and most prides throughout the world. They host parades and stages as well as perform. It appears that will not be the case at next month’s event.

“We may be constrained by the narrowest interpretation of the law today but that does not dissuade us from our long-term fight against injustice against our community,” Jeff Stirling, CEO of Stonewall Pride Inc., told SFGN exclusively.

‘Our Community Is Not Safe’

Before the vote, more than a dozen people got up to speak against the law and the city’s acquiescence.

“The laws are just unjust,” said one speaker representing Georgie’s Alibi Monkey Bar. “We are entertainers. We are emcees. We are comedians in our culture, not criminals.”

Coco Lords sat near the front in full regalia representing the drag community.  

“I’m here to make sure we are heard and are seen,” she said. “To show that we are one community and we have to represent each other and stand up for each other.”

Michael Rajner, chair of Broward County’s Human Rights Board, said, “We are not safe in Florida, but we stay here. Some of us are going to stay here and fight. We hope we have enough Democrats that are registered that will vote and we can start stemming that tide.”

No Good Choices

The city had few choices and none of them were good. To take a principled stand and blatantly allow the law to be broken with the city’s permission could result in political upheaval in the city.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has the right to remove elected and appointed officials if he deems they are not enforcing state laws. It is possible the entire city commission and other positions could be filled with lackeys who would blindly do the governor’s bidding.

Before the vote, Mayor Scott Newton said people marginalized by the law are still welcome to be part of the event.

“We’re proud to have drag queens and the transgender community come and walk and ride in floats down Wilton Drive. And that’s not going to change, not on our watch.”

The permit language puts the onus on Stirling, who says decisions are still being made about who will be allowed in the parade. He is open to the idea of a float or delegation of drag entertainers, since that is not a performance. In the end he wants Stonewall and the city to live to fight another day.

“There are no good answers. We’re trying to get by and fight again.” 

Stonewall Pride Parade & Street Festival is scheduled for June 17 from 3-11 p.m.