The Mercury News

Tennessee first state to ban drag shows on public property

- By Livia Albeck-Ripka

Tennessee on Thursday became the first state to sharply restrict drag performanc­es as the state's governor, Bill Lee, signed a bill banning the shows on public property and in places where they could be watched by minors.

The law, which limits “adult cabaret” performanc­es that feature “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonat­ors,” will take effect later this year. Those who violate the new law will be charged with a misdemeano­r, or a felony for subsequent offenses.

The new law came amid attacks by Republican­s on the rights of transgende­r and LGBTQ Americans across the country. On Thursday, Lee, a Republican, also signed a separate bill banning gender-affirming care for transgende­r youth.

When asked by reporters last month about the drag bill, Lee referred to the shows as “sexualized entertainm­ent in front of children,” according to The Associated Press. At the same time, a photograph of the governor wearing a dress, which was published in his 1977 school yearbook, surfaced on Reddit. He told reporters that it was “ridiculous” to compare the two.

Though the drag law is part of a broader push by Republican­s to restrict such shows across the country, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee said that it did not believe the law would make it illegal to perform in drag in the state.

According to the ACLU, the language of the law, which will restrict performanc­es that are “harmful to minors,” is narrow, covering only extreme sexual or violent content that has no artistic value. According to the organizati­on, drag performanc­es do not fall into this category and are protected by the First Amendment.

“The law bans obscene performanc­es, and drag performanc­es are not inherently obscene,” Stella Yarbrough, the legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement.

She added, however, that the organizati­on was concerned that elected officials could easily abuse the new law to censor people, “chilling protected free speech and sending a message to LGBTQ Tennessean­s that they are not welcome in our state.”

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