Tennessee federal judge rules 'drag ban' is unconstitutional

The ruling was determined based on the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
Drag performers
Posted at 10:45 AM, Jun 03, 2023

Tennessee's version of not allowing drag queens and kings in public settings has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Memphis, according to a ruling filed late Friday night.

The ruling was determined based on the First Amendment and freedom of speech.

The suit started with Friends of George's, Inc, a nonprofit organization based in Memphis that produces drag-centric performances, comedy sketches and plays. This came after the legislature created a bill that Gov. Bill Lee quickly signed into law that restricted adult cabaret performances, which includes exotic dancers, strippers and female impersonators, in public spaces and in the presence of children. Those found in violation could have been punished by a fine of up to $2,500 and or up to a year in jail. The law became known as the Adult Entertainment Act.

Friends of George's sued, and a judge filed a temporary restraining order ever since to figure out the merits of the case.

Kelsea Ballerini, center, performs

Why is there debate over drag shows?

More than a dozen states have proposed legislation that would effectively restrict drag performances.


"The Tennessee General Assembly can certainly use its mandate to pass laws that their communities demand," Judge Thomas L. Parker wrote in his ruling. "But that mandate as to speech is limited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which commands that laws infringing on the Freedom of Speech must be narrow and well-defined. The AEA is neither."

The law was supposed to take effect July 1. It's not clear if the Tennessee Attorney General will appeal the case to a higher court.