Oct 3, 2023  |  
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3 Jun 2023

A federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump ruled Friday a Tennessee bill banning public drag shows—the first of its kind that set off a trend in other states—was unconstitutional, three months after the controversial bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee.

Drag Ban Tennessee

A Tennessee bill signed by Gov. Bill Lee in March banned any public "adult cabaret performance."

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

District Judge Thomas Parker—appointed by Trump in 2018—said in his ruling the bill is “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”

Parker previously issued a temporary injunction on the law in support of a lawsuit filed by Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based theater group, suggesting “if Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech,” lawmakers had to do so “within the constraints and framework” of the Constitution.

The bill, signed by Lee in March, prohibits any “adult cabaret performance” on public property or in venues where they can be “viewed by a person who is not an adult,” though it does not explicitly say “drag show.”

Some Tennessee legislators—including Republican state Sen. Jack Johnson—argued the bill was meant to “protect children from sexually explicit drag shows,” a claim Parker refuted in his ruling by suggesting the bill could apply to anywhere a minor was present.

Thomas concluded his ruling by noting the state legislature argued to change the definition of “minors” in the bill to a “reasonable 17-year-old minor.” Thomas said while Tennessee residents “believed this powerful law would protect all children,” it would “only protect 17-year-olds.”

The Friends of George’s argued the bill threatens the lives of “drag performers and seeks to oppress queer culture state-wide,” according to The Tennessean. The Human Rights Campaign condemned the bill as discriminatory, arguing it attempted to label members of the LGBTQ community “as dangerous” by likening drag shows to strip clubs.

Tennessee became the first state to restrict public drag show performances following ramped-up efforts to ban drag performances this year. Lee was criticized for supporting the Tennessee bill, after a photo published in Lee’s high school yearbook showed him dressed in women’s clothing. Other states, including Arizona, have since approved similar bills restricting drag shows. Criticism of drag events has partly focused on Drag Story Hour, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that offers storytelling events hosted by drag performers. In June 2022, a Bay Area event hosted by Drag Story Hour was disrupted by members of the Proud Boys, who shouted “homophobic and transphobic slurs at the event’s organizers in the presence of children,” according to police.

Federal Judge Tosses Tennessee’s Controversial ‘Anti-Drag’ Law, Declares It Unconstitutional (The Tennessean)

Trump-Appointed Federal Judge Rejects Tennessee’s Anti-Drag Law As Too Broad, Too Vague (Associated Press)

Tennessee Becomes First State To Restrict Drag Shows Amid Recent GOP Push (Forbes)

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