A federal judge blocked a local “decency ordinance” primarily targeting drag shows, allowing organizers of a Pride festival in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to move forward with their plans to carry out the event.
U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., of the Middle District of Tennessee, signed a temporary restraining order directing the city of Murfreesboro and its officials, including City Manager Craig Tindall, Mayor Shane McFarland, and the Murfreesboro Police Department, not to “enforce or take any action pursuant to the provision to Murfreesboro City Code 21-71 that includes ‘homosexuality’ within the definition of ‘sexual conduct.'”
The so-called “decency ordinance,” which was approved in June, prohibits people in public spaces from engaging in “indecent behavior,” displaying “indecent material,” or subjecting minors to behaviors, material, or events that are “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors.” Those found in violation are barred from sponsoring any events at a public space for a period of two to five years.
Critics of the ordinance have argued that such language is overly vague and subject to wide interpretation based on individual biases or preferences.
Some have also noted that the ordinance’s references to appealing to the “prurient interest” appear to be specifically targeting drag shows, with the intent of having such performances deemed as “offensive” based on the aforementioned “prevailing standards” of what constitutes “decency.”
A year ago, the city started to take action targeting BoroPride over the presence of drag and open displays of LGBTQ identity.
Tindall, the city manager, sent a letter to BoroPride organizers stating that he would deny future permits for the festival and drag show on government property. In that letter, Tindal accused the 2022 BoroPride event of having exposed children “to a harmful prurient interest.”
The 2022 event attracted over 7,000 revelers to Cannonsburgh Village, a historic parks and recreation property in downtown Murfreesboro.
BoroPride organizers quickly found a new location for the 2023 festival, initially applying to be held on the campus grounds of Middle Tennessee State University and ultimately reaching an agreement with MTSU to use the Tennessee Miller Coliseum, an air-conditioned off-campus venue with stadium-style seating that the university owns.
But even though Tindall and Mayor Shane McFarland told The Daily News Journal that the city government has no jurisdiction to prohibit festival organizers from using state property, the Tennessee Equality Project, which organizes and runs BoroPride, accused city officials of seeking to deter them from moving forward with the festival.
Enlisting the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the organization filed suit, alleging that Murfreesboro city officials “engaged in a year-long anti-LGBTQ+ campaign” against them.
The lawsuit also alleges that the mayor and city manager denied the Tennessee Equality Project’s request for a permit for 2023 BoroPride, and implemented the “decency ordinance” with the intent of censoring any LGBTQ-related speech or conduct, as any pro-LGBTQ expressions could be deemed “sexual conduct” inappropriate for minors.
The lawsuit claims that the ordinance is an attempt to circumvent the First Amendment and restrict the free speech rights of LGBTQ individuals, BoroPride organizers, and drag performers based solely on city officials’ personal biases and disagreement with the content of their speech.
By issuing the restraining order, Crenshaw protects LGBTQ residents of Murfreesboro, their allies, and drag performers from being prosecuted under the ordinance while questions concerning the ordinance’s potential unconstitutionality are resolved in the courts.
The festival will continue as scheduled on Saturday, October 28, from 1 to 8 p.m. at Miller Coliseum.
However, attendance at the festival’s 11 a.m. BoroPride Drag Pageant, and its 9 p.m. drag show, which are being held at Austin Audio Visual Design in downtown Murfreesboro, will be limited to those over age 18, all of whom will be carded at entry.
Sasha Velour, the winner of Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, will attend the festival and the evening show, appearing alongside the newly crowned drag pageant court members.
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