Major Pole-Dancing Convention Cancels Florida Event Due To Ron DeSantis' Anti-LGBTQ Laws

The governor and White House hopeful recently signed a flurry of legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, including one law that targets drag shows.

A major pole-dancing convention no longer plans to head to Orlando in 2024 after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a flurry of laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community, including one that targets drag shows.

The International Pole Convention, known as PoleCon for short, has decided to relocate the annual event because attendees will include people of various genders and ages, including youth performers and children attending with their parents, and some attendees will be in drag.

“It’s just too risky to go to Florida,” Colleen Jolly, the CEO of the International Pole Convention, told HuffPost. “At this point, I’m signing [event-related] contracts one year in advance. What kind of shenanigans are going to be happening there by then?”

One of the Florida laws purports to bar business from admitting minors to sexually explicit drag shows, but critics say it’s written in such a way that it could apply to all drag events. The text says that such shows include those that are “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community of this state as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for the age of the child present.”

Any establishment that violates the law could be fined $5,000 for a first offense and $10,000 for a subsequent violation, as well as having its liquor license revoked.

Last week, a federal judge temporarily halted the drag ban after Hamburger Mary’s, a chain restaurant that hosts drag performances for all ages, sued Florida, saying the law’s broad language has a chilling effect on the right to free speech.

But the legal uncertainty still has Jolly concerned about holding an inclusive event in Florida. Even before DeSantis signed the drag law, right-wing extremists and other protesters had shown up to drag events at restaurants and other venues.

“I wouldn’t want my attendees to have people standing outside picketing,” Jolly said. “This is their time to get away, relax and have fun. They shouldn’t have to worry about getting hassled.”

PoleCon was held in Orlando in 2018, and Jolly said that many attendees — professional and hobbyist pole-dancers alike — visited local theme parks, participating in Florida’s large tourist economy. But now there is a real danger to any organization holding drag events.

Last year, DeSantis threatened a Miami restaurant’s liquor license over drag shows, alleging that the popular events were targeting minors with lewd performances. Then in February, DeSantis filed a complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation after it hosted a family-friendly drag show, similarly accusing the nonprofit of putting on sexually explicit performances for children.

DeSantis signed the raft of anti-LGBTQ laws right before announcing last month that he was running for the White House, signaling what his priorities could be as president. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.

Florida’s drag ban is a part of a conservative moral panic about children being exposed to the LGBTQ+ community. While it has spread across the country in GOP-led states, Florida remains at the forefront.

Conservative culture warriors in the Sunshine State have sought to clamp down on the books that children can access and what teachers can say at school. And in addition to restricting drag shows, they’ve worked to prohibit transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming care.

“It’s not really about protecting children,” Jolly said. “It’s about control.”

Jolly is now searching for a new location for PoleCon 2024.

“I won’t go to any state with a drag ban,” she said. “So, I’ve had to block out a third of the country.”

However, Jolly is not concerned about where the convention will be held. She said the real issue is how drag bans affect anyone looking for a safe and inclusive space.

“PoleCon will find another place,” Jolly said. “But real people are being hurt by this. And even if you’re straight and cisgender, you need to be paying attention.”

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