MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — A bill putting restrictions on where drag shows can be held in Tennessee was signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee Thursday.
The law ensures drag shows don’t happen in public or in front of children, threatening performers with a misdemeanor charge or a felony if it’s a repeat offense.
Under the Tennessee bill, the words “drag show” are not explicitly stated. However, the legislation changes the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee’s law to mean “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.“
The bill also says that “male or female impersonators” now fall under adult cabaret among topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, and strippers.
Other states including Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Montana are considering similar bans.
Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently signed a bill that restricted “adult performances”, including drag shows.
During Gov. Lee’s visit to Memphis Wednesday, protestors were detained after they voiced their concerns about the bill.
Lee was fielding questions about the bill since a photo of him wearing a skirt in his 1977 high school yearbook resurfaced on Reddit.
“What’s really sad is when folks try to distract people from the truth of what’s really happening,” Lee responded. “Sexualized entertainment in front of children, and obscenity for children, is something that shouldn’t happen in this state. It’s ridiculous to try and conflate some high school skit to something that is as serious as something potentially harming children.”
Tennessee is among the states passing the most anti-LGBTQ legislation in the past few years. Last week, lawmakers also passed legislation that would ban gender-affirming care for youth under 18. The law goes into effect on July 1 of this year.
In a statement Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Lambda Legal called the law dangerous and unconstitutional and promised to take legal action.
“We will not allow this dangerous law to stand. Certain politicians and Governor Lee have made no secret of their intent to discriminate against youth who are transgender or their willful ignorance about the life-saving health care they seek to ban. Instead, they’ve chosen fearmongering, misrepresentations, intimidation and extremist politics over the rights of families and the lives of transgender youth in Tennessee. We are dedicated to overturning this unconstitutional law and are confident the state will find itself completely incapable of defending it in court. We want transgender youth to know they are not alone and this fight is not over.”
Arkansas passed a similar bill in April 2021, but it was blocked by a federal appeals court in Aug. 2022.