The furor over child attendance at drag performances across the country reached an end-of-year fever pitch as pundits called for arrests and Florida regulators threatened to revoke the state licenses of local venues if they let children attend a raunchy holiday-themed drag show.
Amid the outrage, Christian Ziegler, vice chair of the Florida Republican Party, faced pushback after he intimated that a massive police intervention should be called in to stop the show, "A Drag Queen Christmas,"
which wrapped up its nationwide tour with an event in Clearwater, Florida, last week.
Ziegler said on social media that the appropriate law enforcement response to the show would eclipse the force
used during an FBI raid of Republican operative Roger Stone's home. "[Stone] got ARs at his front door," Ziegler tweeted on December 28, referring to agents who approached Stone's property with rifles in 2019. "I expect at least that - TIMES 10 - in response to this insane event."
While some social media users took Ziegler's comment as an incitement to violence, the GOP vice chair maintains he was not encouraging drag show detractors to take up arms.
"It's not a threat," Ziegler says."It's advocating for law enforcement response to this event that had children exposed to sexually graphic and explicit material."
Maxx Fenning, president of the South Florida-based LGBTQ advocacy group PRISM, says that Ziegler's comments posed a danger to the drag and LGBTQ communities, regardless of what his intentions were.
"Whether he meant it that way or not, I think that someone like him should understand the context that we're in, should understand the responses that we've already seen to drag performances this year, and recognize pretty plainly what language like that will inevitably lead to," Fenning tells New Times
Ziegler's comments hit a nerve among the LGBTQ community and beyond, in light of the wave of violence and vitriol against drag shows and LGBTQ venues over the past year. The LGBTQ organization GLAAD has documented multiple violent threats
and extremist responses tied to drag shows, ranging from bomb threats to an act of arson at a Tulsa business that had hosted a drag event.
Ziegler made the comments on the night of A Drag Queen Christmas' Orlando tour stop, which he sharply criticized for allowing children in the audience. The event was part of a 36-city tour featuring popular drag performers singing, dancing, and doing risque holiday-themed comedy.
The show stopped in Broward, Miami, Orlando, and Clearwater over a four-day period in its final run of the tour, which ended December 29. Venues in those cities imposed varying age-related attendance restrictions on the show, with the Broward Center for the Performing Arts requiring minors to be accompanied by adults. The Clearwater venue
prohibited anyone under the age of 18 from attending.
When asked to clarify his tweet, Ziegler claims his statement was misunderstood and that he was trying to draw attention to the scale of the 2019 FBI raid of Stone's Fort Lauderdale home in connection with charges of witness-tampering and lying to Congress.
"I mean, I'm not a big fan of Roger Stone," Ziegler tells New Times
. "But when you got a 60-year-old being greeted at his doorstep by law enforcement with rifles, I mean, that's ridiculous. And I think [my tweet] was just highlighting that, but also that maybe law enforcement should be focused on this
In the final days of A Drag Queen Christmas' tour, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) sent warning letters to the James L. Knight Center in Miami and the Plaza Live in Orlando, threatening to file administrative complaints against them if they allowed children to attend the show.
Earlier in the week, DBPR opened an investigation
into the Broward Center for Performing Arts, claiming it had received complaints of children viewing explicit content during the show. In response, the Broward Center issued a statement, maintaining that it had warned of the adult-themed humor well in advance and highlighting how it required minors at the show to be accompanied by parents.
Fenning says it's been alarming to watch what is meant to be entertainment turn into a flashpoint. He says drag is a key LGBTQ art form and has provided a sense of community to LGBTQ people for decades.
"I worry that this is an attack against our community in a different sense... against the very fabric of our community in a way that I think is extremely dangerous," Fenning says.
Ziegler and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, are prominent figures in local and state Republican politics. Christian Ziegler runs the consulting firm Microtargeted Media and was a vocal supporter of Governor Ron DeSantis' reelection campaign this year. Bridget Ziegler, who has served on the Sarasota County School Board since 2014, was one of the founders of Moms for Liberty, a conservative group that has pushed for the removal of public school books that it deems to be sexually explicit.
Ziegler joins a chorus of conservative figures who have called for arrests and police intervention in connection with drag shows attended by children.
This past summer, after video surfaced of a child being led through Miami restaurant R House by a drag performer in pasties, commentator Lauren Chen proclaimed, "These people belong in jail." She added, "Ron DeSantis, I'm looking at you."
Days later, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed an administrative complaint seeking to revoke R House's liquor license, claiming it had exposed children to sexually explicit behavior.