MIAMI—Every table at one of Miami’s most popular weekend drag brunch venues was taken on Saturday morning as a mix of LGBTQ regulars and out-of-town straight women celebrating bachelorette parties filed in ahead of the main event. The crowd at R House Wynwood, a restaurant known for hosting raucous drag shows starring some of the city’s longtime transgender artists, showed up in droves just days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly declared war on the restaurant, claiming it poses a “disturbing” threat to kids.
Attendees of Saturday’s brunch were unfazed by his complaints: They chugged bottomless mimosas, mojitos and deliciously potent cocktails with names like “La Reina,” while munching on sliders, boneless fried chicken, croissant sandwiches and quinoa salad.
Tiffany Fantasia, the statuesque emcee of R House’s weekend drag brunch festivities who’s been performing in drag for more than 15 years, emerged from the bar area in a sequined zebra-print ensemble as RuPaul’s “Cover Girl” blared through the sound system.
“Welcome to R house!!!” Tiffany shouted into a microphone. “Make some noise!!!!” She explained the house rules, which include clearing a path for drag performers as they dance around tables, and maintaining liquor composure.
“Whatever you do, do not get white girl wasted,” Tiffany warned.
Kenny Villalet, a 40-year-old Miamian, his husband, and their twin 3-year-old daughters were among the first patrons who waited in line to get a table for the drag brunch that DeSantis claims is an attempt to “sexualize” children. For him, coming to R House on Saturdays has turned into a regular family outing, and there’s nothing sexual about it. “It’s amazing,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with bringing kids to a drag show. It’s people having a great time and enjoying the company of friends.”
DeSantis, who’s all for parental rights when it involves not forcing children to wear masks in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, is on a mission to strip dads like Villalet of their rights.
During a press conference earlier this week, DeSantis filed a complaint with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation against R House for allowing children at the restaurant’s drag performances, claiming they are subjected to “lewd behavior.”
R House is just the latest target in DeSantis’ culture war against the LGBTQ community, especially transgender persons, thanks to LibsofTikTok, a social media account that regularly posts photos and videos of LGBTQ+ people and events to gin up outrage within the far right. The governor’s complaint came shortly after LibsofTikTok shared a clip of an R House entertainer wearing only a g-string stuffed with dollar bills and pasties on her breasts holding hands with a little girl during an evening drag show.
While addressing reporters on Wednesday, DeSantis said children’s presence at drag shows wasn’t consistent with Florida state law and called it a “disturbing trend in our society to try to sexualize these young people.”
DeSantis has sparred with reporters and state Democrats over the Republican-led legislature’s Parental Rights in Education law, or the “Don’t Say Gay” law as critics have dubbed it. The legislation bars public school teachers from discussing topics involving sexual orientation and gender identity with students in kindergarten through third grade. Earlier this week, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., who was appointed by DeSantis, instructed school districts across the state to ignore recent guidance from the Biden administration expanding Title IX protections for transgender students or risk violating state law.
In his R House complaint, DeSantis noted the drag performer’s attire in claiming the restaurant violated state laws for disorderly conduct and prohibiting the operation of a business for lewd purposes. He also cited a 1947 state Supreme Court ruling that found “men impersonating women” in a “suggestive and indecent” fashion is a public nuisance.
R House has 21 days to respond to DeSantis’ complaint after the state’s business regulatory agency threatened to revoke the restaurant’s liquor license for corrupting “the public morals,” according to WPLG. The restaurant called the whole controversy a “misunderstanding” in a statement earlier this week.
Tom Connors, a 45-year-old part-time Miami Beach resident at R House’s Saturday brunch, said he was offended by the governor’s comments. If DeSantis is really worried about exposing children to restaurant employees wearing sexually suggestive outfits, he said, he should go after chains like Clearwater, Florida-based Hooters, where female servers have to wear skimpy tube tops and revealing shorts as uniforms.
“They haven’t done anything equivalent to Hooters, where you can take pictures of little boys with scantily-clad women,” Connors said. “Drag is an art form and it is good to expose children to art. And ultimately it’s up to parents to make those decisions and not state officials. It’s only about parents’ rights when it suits his needs.”
Meanwhile, R House spokesman Larry Carrino told the Sun-Sentinel said the drag shows would go on and “there are no plans to alter operations.”
During the Saturday brunch, the party definitely raged on. Tiffany Fantasia introduced a quartet of drag queens who shimmied and lip-synched to songs by Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Aretha Franklin. The audience roared with approval every time performers did cartwheels and splits.
The entertainers primarily wore dazzling outfits that didn’t reveal too much skin, except one queen who ripped off her costume and finished her set in a beige one-piece bodysuit with a g-string.
A server, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because management had issued a no-media gag order, said R House didn’t deserve to get caught in the middle of DeSantis’ cultural war. “We have no control over parents who bring their kids here,” he said. “We have gay and straight people working here. We are a family. For us to possibly lose our jobs over some political drama is not right.”
Villalet, the dad with the twin girls, said drag shows are a mainstay of Miami’s entertainment scene. “To be honest, the governor’s complaint is a lot of BS,” he said. “It’s like we are back in the 1800s when we are living in the 21st Century.”
Being an LGBTQ person in Florida feels scary at the moment, Villalet added. “With the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, it’s like everything is against us,” he said. “We don’t know what else is going to happen.”