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.”
The iconic world of drag is set to be injected with a new dose of sickening queens once again as MTV and Paramount+ have announced the greenlighting of new seasons for multiple shows in the beloved RuPaul's Drag Race franchise.
RuPaul's Drag Race, the cornerstone of the franchise and the OG, is gearing up for its sixteenth season.
The anticipation is heightened by the concurrent return of the spin-off show, RuPaul's Drag Race: Untucked, which will air after each new episode of the main series.
Adding to the excitement, the announcement revealed that the greenlighting process also includes a ninth installment of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars.
Attendance at a local Tennessee LGBTQ Pride festival more than doubled after a county district attorney threatened to prosecute organizers under a state law seeking to prohibit drag shows by classifying them as "adult cabaret performances."
Blount Pride, a festival featuring music, art, drag performances, and a community resource fair, is held annually in Maryville, Tennessee, less than a half-hour outside Knoxville.
This year's celebration was scheduled to take place during an eight-hour time slot on Saturday, Sept. 2, on the campus of Maryville College.
Just days before the event was to take place, Blount County District Attorney Ryan Desmond sent a letter to Blount Pride organizers, the President of Maryville College, and local elected and law enforcement officials, warning that he intended to prosecute them if they violated the "Adult Entertainment Act," which bans "male or female impersonators" from performing in public spaces, or in places where minors might view drag performances.
The "reading is fundamental" jokes write themselves with this story.
RuPaul has shared a lot about his life and his philosophies in interviews, on TV, and even in past books, but now he's getting ready to put it all out there in even greater detail.
The Emmy and Tony winner has announced his definitive memoir, The House of Hidden Meanings, slated to drop early next year.
The TV star took to Instagram to announce the book, revealing the exciting project via a video that sees him speaking to the camera without any makeup or fantasy lighting, perhaps mimicking how raw he'll be in the tell-all.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!