Tennessee governor signs first-of-its-kind bill restricting drag shows

The measure will prohibit drag performances on public property or at locations in the state where they can be viewed by minors.

March 2, 2023 – By Matt Lavietes

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a novel bill into law Thursday that will criminalize some drag performances.

The first-of-its-kind legislation will ban “adult cabaret entertainment” on public property or in locations where it can be viewed by minors. Such entertainment, according to the measure, includes “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers.”

The law, which takes effect April 1, calls for first-time offenders to be slapped with misdemeanors. Subsequent offenses would be classified as felonies and could result in prison sentences of up to six years.

Lawmakers in at least a dozen other states have proposed measures that would similarly restrict drag performances, according to an NBC News analysis.

Supporters say the legislation is necessary to safeguard children against exposure to inappropriate entertainment.

One of the bill’s Republican lead sponsors, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, did not respond to a request for comment. Instead, he celebrated the signing on Twitter.

“The bill gives confidence to parents that they can take their kids to a public or private show and will not be blindsided by a sexualized performance,” he wrote.

Asked for comment, Jade Byers, the press secretary for the other lead sponsor, Rep. Chris Todd, wrote, in full, “The Governor signed the bill today and appreciates the work of Leader Johnson to protect children.”

Several drag performers in the state argue that the legislation broadly paints drag as overtly sexual and unfairly targets the underground art form, which has deep roots in the LGBTQ community.

“Drag has never turned a child into a prostitute or anything negative — it just gave them a chance to express happiness,” said Denise Sadler, 38, who has been performing as a drag queen for over 20 years in Nashville. “If happiness is against the law, then what kind of world do we live in?”

Some also note that the state already has obscenity laws.

“For them to pass further legislation governing this ‘obscene’ art form of drag, it doesn’t serve any purpose other than to stir up the people who already hate us and make it harder for us to just exist out in the world,” said Luke Conner, a Memphis drag queen whose stage name is Anyanka. “It’s not about protecting children anymore. It’s about silencing an entire group of people.”

LGBTQ advocates also worry that police will enforce the law against transgender people walking around in public, falsely painting them as “male or female impersonators.”

“Y’all are giving the police every right … to attack me and come at me when I’m not doing anything but living my life,” said Sadler, who is transgender. “For this to be the land of the free, I shouldn’t have to walk around being scared because I’m Black or because I’m trans.”

Regina Lambert Hillman, a law professor at the University of Memphis who was part of a legal team that challenged Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriages in 2013, similarly described the bill’s language as “intentionally vague” and said she understands the trans community’s concern. However, she said, the law cannot prevent trans people from dressing in their lived genders in public.

“You still have First Amendment protections,” she said. “What that means is how a person dresses or what a person says, that does not change. The government cannot suppress speech, including expressive conduct, just because they find it offensive or they don’t like the content.”

source : https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/tennessee-governor-signs-first-its-kind-bill-restricting-drag-shows-n1303262

related : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKXH2vrDJsU

Source : https://www.statista.com/chart/29434/drag-bans-us-states/

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