Drag Bar Hamburger Mary's Is Suing the State of Florida

The restaurant's co-owner claims the state's recently-passed law is already having an impact on business.

Hamburger Mary's Bar and Grille

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Of the 544 photos on John Paonessa’s Instagram account, the majority of them are promos for “Dining with the Divas,” “Broadway Brunch” and other drag-and-dinner shows at the Hamburger Mary’s location that he co-owns in Orlando, Florida. That all changed earlier this week, when he posted the text of his lawsuit against the State of Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis, alleging that a recently-passed law has had a significant effect on the restaurant’s business.

Earlier this month, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1438 into law in Florida. That legislation, called “Protection of Children” would allow the state to pull the liquor licenses — or potentially even close — restaurants, bars, or other establishments that allow children to attend what it deems as adult-themed live performances, including any event that “depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, specific sexual activities.”

Although the text of the bill doesn’t specifically mention drag performances, they could still be included under its broad description of adult performances. “[The law] does not mention ‘drag’ by name but it is so broad as to include this art form in the state’s interpretation under the newly created or amended laws in question,” Paonessa’s lawsuit reads.

“This bill has nothing to do with children, and everything to do with the continued oppression of the LGBTQ+ community,” Paonessa wrote on Instagram. “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!”

Paonessa said that reservations at his Hamburger Mary’s restaurant have dropped by 20%, since they had to stop allowing parents to bring kids to their Sunday Broadway Brunches, where drag performers sing show tunes and other Broadway favorites.

“It is taking a hit on the business,” he told ClickOrlando. “There’s nothing going on with drag queens that affects any family, children, there’s no nudity at these shows. There’s no grooming. 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 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 weigh in on this lawsuit, Paonessa has said that anyone who wants to support the restaurant can attend one of its shows (although it is no longer welcoming under-18s, the performances will continue) or make a donation to its GoFundMe to help cover its legal fees. Any donations that are left over after this court battle will be “distributed to local LGBTQ+ charities and organizations.”

SB 1438 officially goes into effect on Saturday, July 1.

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