Tennessee Has Banned Drag Performances In Public, And Other States Are Considering Similar Bans

The ban is set to go into effect April 1 this year, a few months ahead of Pride festivities, trans advocates have noted.

Tennessee became the first state on Thursday to enact a drag ban, barring performances from the public eye or where there are minors present.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed HB 9 into law just days after a high school yearbook photo surfaced of him appearing in drag — in a wig and cheerleader skirt — as part of a powderpuff football game. He has not confirmed or denied his appearance in the photo.

Tennessee law now bans “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” from performing in public spaces or in front of minors. 

The ban is set to go into effect April 1 this year, a few months ahead of Pride festivities, trans advocates have noted. Though it is unclear how the law will be enforced, it does carry criminal penalties for those who violate it. 

In 15 states across the country, state legislatures are considering more than 20 bills that target drag performances. 

The ACLU noted that the ban violates First Amendment protections. Stella Yarbrough, the ACLU of Tennessee's legal director said in a statement that "the law bans obscene performances, and drag perforamnces are not inherently obscene."

"However, we are concerned that government officials could easily abuse this law to censor people based on their own subjective viewpoints of what they deem appropriate," she said.

On Thursday, Lee also signed SB 1 into law, which restricts access to gender-affirming care for transgender youth. Tennessee is the eighth state to ban such care in the US.

The ban on gender-affirming care will go into effect on July 1, and those already receiving medical care such as puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy will lose this care after March 31, 2024. 

The ACLU and Lambda Legal issued another statement promising legal action against Tennessee for the healthcare ban, citing injunctions by federal courts on similar restrictions in Alabama and Arkansas.

“Certain politicians and Gov. Lee have made no secret of their intentions to discriminate against youth who are transgender or their willful ignorance about the life-saving health care they seek to ban,” a joint statement from the organizations said. 

“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,” it continued. 

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