A federal judge has ruled that a Tennessee law severely limiting drag shows in public or in establishments where children might see them is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Parker, of the Western District of Tennessee, found that the law, signed into effect by Republican Gov. Bill Lee in March, was “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad,” infringing on the free speech rights of drag performers.
The law classifies drag performances as “adult cabaret performances,” similar to topless dancing, go-go dancing, exotic dancing, and stripping acts, and prohibits them from occurring on public property or in places where minors view them.
Violators may be prosecuted and punished with fines worth thousands of dollars, and prison sentences ranging from one to six years in prison, depending on the severity of the violation and whether it’s a first or subsequent offense.
The law was challenged by Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBTQ theater group. They argued that the law unfairly singles out drag performers from other types of “adult cabaret” performers and threatens only them with the risk of fines and jail time.
The group also argued that the law discriminates and restricts speech based on the identity of the speaker, rather than the actual content of the show in question.
Friends of George’s also noted that the law is difficult to enforce because it would restrict drag to only places where performers can be assured that a minor is not on the premises and will not be admitted, meaning that restaurants or establishments that host drag shows must either cancel the shows or refuse to admit minors, even to adjoining or nearby rooms, lest they be exposed to such performances.
“The [law] can criminalize — or at minimum chill — the expressive conduct of those who wish to impersonate a gender that is different from the one with which they were born in Shelby County,” Parker, a Donald Trump appointee, wrote in a 70-page ruling, referring to the county containing Memphis. “Such speech is protected by the First Amendment.”
Parker added that while the state may have a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, the laws is neither the least restrictive nor most narrowly tailored way of achieving that without violating performers’ First Amendment rights, reports The Hill.
Right-wing groups, social conservatives, and Republican politicians have recently seized on drag shows as one of several new “wedge” issues, along with bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth, and prohibitions on transgender sports competitors, that seek to exploit the larger American public’s discomfort with gender-nonconformity for political gain ahead of the upcoming 2024 election.
This year, according to The Washington Post, at least 26 bills have been introduced in various states seeking to limit or severely restrict where drag performances can take place. Florida has a similar law in place, and Texas is poised to adopt a nearly identical statute once Gov. Greg Abbott signs the bill into law.
For now, it appears that Parker’s ruling only applies to Shelby County, where the order blocks District Attorney General Steven Mulroy from attempting to enforce the ban. However, other jurisdictions have the option of filing similar lawsuits.
Initially, the lawsuit by Friends of George’s had also listed Lee and Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti as defendants. But the theater group eventually agreed not to pursue charges against either, instead seeking only to block Mulroy from penalizing the theater or its performers when they hold shows in Memphis.
Skrmetti has vowed to appeal Parker’s ruling at a later time.
Friends of George’s celebrated the ruling in a tweet on Saturday morning: “WE WON! Judge Parker has declared Tennessee’s anti-drag law unconstitutional! Friends of George’s would like to thank Brice Timmons and Melissa Stewart at Donati Law and all who have stood by us during this fight!”
According to the Post, members of the theater company were headed to a parade Saturday afternoon to mark the first weekend of Pride Month.
“While today is a moment worth celebrating as we kick off Pride month, our work is not finished,” the nonprofit organization said in a statement.
“As the onslaught of hatred against the LGBTQ+ community continues around the country through the passage of anti-trans, homophobic, and draconian laws that seek to silence expression and identity, we will remain vocal and vigilant.”
A federal judge extended a temporary restraining order blocking Texas from attempting to enforce its ban on drag performances for an additional 14 days.
The decision gives the court two weeks to consider whether to issue a permanent injunction that would prevent enforcement of the law -- which was originally slated to take effect on September 1 -- while its constitutionality is argued in court, reports CBS News.
The law, passed earlier this year, prohibits "sexually oriented" performances from occurring in public places, state-funded facilities, or venues where minors may potentially view them.
A Russian court has convicted a transgender blogger for allegedly violating the country's laws prohibiting the spread of "LGBTQ propaganda" and "discrediting" the Russian military.
Milana Petrova posted the alleged "objectionable" content, including details of her day-to-day life as a transgender woman and details about her transition, and criticisms of the Russian army, on her public Telegram channel, according to independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta.
The content of Petrova's Telegram channel had been reported to Russia's Center for Combating Extremism by Ekaterina Mizulina, the director of Russia's Safe Internet League.
Two men have been charged with issuing death threats laced with profanity and anti-LGBTQ slurs against two separate members of Congress -- U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) and an unnamed member of the House of Representatives from Texas.
In the Santos case, Frank Stanzione, a Florida man who describes himself as a "long-standing, active advocate for gay rights," allegedly left a threatening message on Santos's congressional office voicemail on January 29. In the message, he lobbed homophobic slurs at the gay Republican congressman and threatened to beat Santos with a baseball bat.
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