Tennessee bans public drag performances, other states could follow

Drag shows have been targeted by protests, and sometimes been victimized by violence.
Drag artist Vidalia Anne Gentry speaks during a news conference held by the Human Rights Campaign.
Posted at 9:42 AM, Mar 03, 2023

On Thursday, Tennessee became the first state to ban public drag show performances after Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law.

The lawprohibits such shows from being “viewed by a person who is not an adult.”

The legislation was previously approved by the state’s House and Senate in party-line votes. Both chambers of the state legislature overwhelmingly approved the measure. 

On the same day, Lee signed into law a measure that would ban gender-affirming care for minors. 

Both measures were opposed by advocates for the LGBTQ community, including GLAAD.

"The slate of hate proposed by Tennessee lawmakers this year would hurt countless LGBTQ youth and families in our state, and would do nothing to make Tennessee a more welcoming and economically prosperous place,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. “Lawmakers need to focus on the real issues plaguing our state, not perpetuate myths and distractions around drag performances and basic health care access for transgender people. We need more acceptance and understanding for our local communities in Tennessee, not less."

A protestor holding up a sign

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The bills in Tennessee were among 300 identified by GLAAD last month that are considered anti-LGBTQ. Among them are a number of states considering similar bans on drag shows. 

The organization also noted that there were 141 incidents targeting drag shows in 2022, including six in Tennessee. 

Bill sponsor State Sen. Jack Johnson said the legislation protects children. 

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“This 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,” Johnson said. 

GLAAD disputes that the performances are harmful to kids. 

“Outlets and accounts often misrepresented what would occur at upcoming drag events, spinning them as harmful to children, and protests or threats would follow,” the organization said.