Tennessee Passes Anti-Drag Bill

By Taylor Rice

Tennessee is going downhill fast. On Thursday, February 23, 2023, Tennessee passed House Bill 9; a bill which targets drag shows and is an offense to the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. 

The Bill passed with a 74-to-20 majority vote in the House, and a 26-to-6 majority vote in the Senate. The bill makes it illegal to host an “adult cabaret performance” on public property or in a place where the performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult. 

An “adult cabaret performance” is defined in the bill as “a performance in a location other than an adult cabaret that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration.” 

While drag shows are not explicitly stated in the bill, they fall under the umbrella of adult cabaret performances since most drag show performers would be classified as “male or female impersonators”. By not allowing them to perform in public spaces, or places where a minor might see the show, severely limits their performing options. 

A first violation of this offense would be Class A misdemeanor–subject to a fine of up to $2,500 and up to one year in jail– and a subsequent second violation would be a Class E felony and one-to-six years years of prison time and fines up to $3,000. 

Luckily, drag can still be performed in private venues, but this bill greatly limits the performer’s audiences. The bill misrepresents drag, implying that it is a sexual experience. However, drag shows don’t commonly involve nudity or stripping. That is typically more in line with a burlesque show, a separate form of entertainment. This bill misrepresents drag shows, which usually consists of raunchy stand-up comedy–which pales in comparison to some mainstream comedians– a song, or a dance. The more explicit performances containing sexual and profane language are more commonly meant for adult audiences.  

This bill targets an entire community of people. The bill is headed to the desk of Tennessee governor Bill Lee, who is expected to sign it into law, and it is expected to go into effect on July 1, 2023. 

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