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Houston lesbian bar was denied insurance coverage for hosting drag shows, owner says

Julie Mabry, the owner of Houston's only lesbian bar, says her business is in jeopardy after the bar was denied insurance coverage. Mabry says the blame is due in part to an anti-drag show bill moving through the Texas Legislature.
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Julie Mabry, the owner of Houston's only lesbian bar, says her business is in jeopardy after the bar was denied insurance coverage. Mabry says the blame is due in part to an anti-drag show bill moving through the Texas Legislature.

The owner of Houston's sole lesbian bar says she was denied insurance coverage for her business because it hosts drag shows — a denial she says is in part due to Texas' proposed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

Julie Mabry, the owner of Pearl Bar in Houston — one of two lesbian bars in Texas — told NPR that while she has insurance through December of this year, she was in the market for a new insurance policy and decided to shop around and switch agents a few months ago.

However, it was during this process that she received an email from her current agent stating she was denied coverage.

"She emailed me back, and she forwarded this email from an underwriter. ... The first sentence in [the email] said, 'We will not write this risk due to drag,'" Mabry said.

The underwriter supposedly did not want to take on the risk of insuring a business that hosts such events. Mabry said that while insurance underwriters who are writing policies will typically flag a number of things that are risks for a business, drag shows have never been implied as a "risk" for her business.

"Obviously, my first reaction was 'That's discrimination.' In the almost 10 years of being in business, drag has never been a reason why they won't write the risk," Mabry said.

Mabry declined to share the name of the insurance company with NPR out of concern that doing so may negatively impact her business or hurt her chances of obtaining a new insurance policy in the future.

Mabry, who opened Pearl Bar in 2013, said she decided to open the bar to provide a safe space for those in the LGBTQ+ community. But given the slew of anti-LGBTQ+ bills passing through the Texas Legislature, she believes it has impacted her business' chance for a new policy.

"I'm not a victim, and this isn't a pity party. This is more about awareness," said Mabry, who is encouraging people to contact their state legislators about anti-LGBTQ+ bills in Texas.

An earlier version of one bill in particular, Senate Bill 12, would have, among other things, prohibited drag shows on public property, on the premises of a commercial enterprise or in the presence of a child. The bill has since been amended to exclude language about drag shows. The bill was passed in the Texas Senate in April and is set to be considered by the House on Friday.

Texas state Sen. Bryan Hughes, the bill's sponsor, did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.

"[Legislators] need to start thinking about saving the economy because they're not helping the economy if they continue to allow this hateful narrative to go around," Mabry said.

Texas is one of several states where elected officials have introduced anti-LGBTQ+ bills over the last few years.

In April, the Texas Department of Agriculture released a new dress code requiring its employees to dress in a "manner consistent with their biological gender."

Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed the state's Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate certain gender-affirming care for transgender children as possible child abuse.

In 2021, Abbott signed into law House Bill 25, which requires public school students to compete in interscholastic athletic competitions based solely on their assigned sex at birth. The law, which went into effect in January 2022, made Texas the 10th state to enact such legislation.

Nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed in 2022 during state legislative sessions. However, only 29 of those bills were signed into law.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.