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Federal judge temporarily blocks Montana’s ban on drag shows

Participants make signs for a rally and march to support the drag and transgender communities at City Hall in San Francisco, on April 8. A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked a Montana law that prohibits some drag performances. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

July 28 (UPI) — A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked Montana’s new law banning some drag performances pending a legal challenge to the legislation.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said House Bill 359, which Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law May 22, likely faces “constitutional maladies.” He also cited Pride events taking place next week in the state.

HB 359 “contains no carveout for speech or expression with serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value,” he wrote.

Additionally, Morris said that state law already protects minors from obscene performances.

The bill bans libraries and schools that receive state funding from hosting drag events, such as story hours or “sexually oriented” performances. It also prohibits drag performances in public places in front of minors.

Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who was banned from the current legislative session earlier this year after she protested a bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, praised the temporary ruling.

“As I said throughout the legislature, drag is art,” she said in a statement on the social-media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “And drag bans not only infringe on free speech, but they are crafted (by design) to be so broad to allow for discrimination against trans & nonbinary people, as well.”

Montana Pride, which hosts the state’s annual LGBTQ Pride celebration in Helena beginning Sunday and running through Aug. 6, was one of the plaintiffs in the legal challenge.

“In case you were wondering, every event is happening!” the organization posted on Facebook in response to the ruling’s effect on pride week events.

In a statement to The Hill, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s spokeswoman, Emily Flower, said the office will respond to the order at an upcoming hearing.

“We look forward to presenting our written response and full argument at the upcoming preliminary injunction hearing to defend the law and protect minors from sexually oriented performances,” she said.

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