A bill to ban public drag shows in Tennessee is set to become law

Tennessee to ban public drag shows as new legislation awaits Governor's signature; penalties include jail time and fines.
A bill to ban public drag shows in Tennessee is set to become law

Tennessee Governor, Bill Lee

A bill in the U.S. state of Tennessee that would ban the performance of drag shows in public areas or a space that could be seen by children is set to be signed into law this month. The legislation would restrict where drag shows could be conducted, with jail sentences enforceable for offenders.

The context

Legislation that restricts performances considered to be harmful to children passed both houses of Tennessee’s Republican-controlled parliament this year. It blocks the public performance of drag shows and would also apply to exotic dancers and strippers. It only requires one more approval before being sent to the state’s Governor, Bill Lee, who can sign it into law.

Governor’s response

Lee confirmed this week that he would sign the legislation into law when it arrived at his desk. Ahead of the legislation becoming law, a photo of Lee dressed in women’s clothes while he was at high school in 1977 surfaced online. Lee didn’t deny that it was him in the photo, but dismissed any relevance towards the current legislation, accusing a reporter of “conflating” the photo to “sexualized entertainment in front of children.”

What are the penalties?

First-time offenders of the new legislation could be subject to up to one year of prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Further offences to the draft law could result in one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000. The legislation will return to the Senate for a procedural vote before it can be given to Lee to sign into law.


Legal Director of LGBTQ+ civil rights organisation Human Rights Campaign, Sarah Warbelow, said the legislation was “spreading anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda to rile up an extremist base.” “Targeting drag performances is just another means of spreading anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda to rile up an extremist base – a strategy we know leads to violence against LGBTQ+ people, and especially against nonbinary and transgender people.” There is concern that the passing of this legislation would give way to further restrictions on drag shows in the U.S. and other events used to gather and celebrate LGBTQIA+ communities.

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