After an initial two-day trial starting Aug. 28 in a U.S. Southern District of Texas court, The Woodlands Township was dropped as a defendant from a lawsuit filed Aug. 2 by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The suit was filed regarding Senate Bill 12, which will go into effect Sept. 1. The bill has been labeled by groups in opposition to the bill as a drag ban due to its broad language surrounding drag performances.

The setup

The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a number of entities across the state including:
  • The Woodlands Pride, Inc.
  • Abilene Pride Alliance
  • Extragrams LLC, a drag production and entertainment company
  • 360 Queen Entertainment LLC, a drag production and entertainment company
  • Brigitte Bandit, a nonbinary drag performer
The lawsuit was filed against interim Texas Attorney General Angela Colmenero; the district attorneys of Montgomery, Taylor, Travis and Bexar counties; and the following Texas entities:The specifics

According to the lawsuit, the language of SB 12 provides a broad enough scope that any and all drag performances could be considered a “sexual performance” and be punished by a fine of up to $10,000 and a year in jail. While the bill does not go into effect until Sept. 1, the lawsuit aims to prevent local entities and law enforcement agencies from enforcing the bill.

What we know

The Woodlands Township was dropped from the lawsuit due to the township having no enforcement authority, according to Bret Strong, legal counsel for the township. A hearing and subsequent trial was held Aug. 28 and Aug. 29, when both sides gave testimony regarding the potential implications of SB 12 if it goes into effect Sept. 1.

On Aug. 8, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court approved defending the county in the case.

In their own words

“If SB 12 does go into effect on September 1, we will have to change our festival plans to exclude drag performances which would likely affect our attendance, which could then affect next year sponsorship deals,” The Woodlands Pride President Jason Rocha said. “It definitely impacts us as a small nonprofit but also, it impacts the small businesses that come to our events and depend on us to make revenue.”

A statement from the township reads: "The Woodlands Township and its board take very seriously their commitment to the residents and taxpayers of The Woodlands in providing services and amenities throughout The Woodlands. We are proud of our long history of doing so in a manner that reflects the needs and the values of our community and are pleased that the plaintiff’s agreed to the dismissal of the lawsuit in relation to The Woodlands Township."

“In its zeal to target drag, the Legislature also passed a bill so yawning in scope that it criminalizes and restricts an enormous swath of constitutionally protected activity, including theater, ballet, comedy, and even cheerleading,” the ACLU wrote in its lawsuit filed to the state. “By enacting this law, the State has threatened the livelihood and free expression of many Texans, including drag performers across our state. The First and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit such strident attempts to regulate and ban free expression, and SB 12 should be declared unconstitutional.”

What’s next

Following the hearing and trial, the plaintiffs and defendants in the case will await the court’s decision to either enact some form of a hold on the bill or allow it to take effect Sept. 1. It is unclear when the decision will come through from the court.