Tennessee Lawmakers Approve Bill Banning Drag From Public

Tennessee lawmakers have approved a bill that will ban drag performances in public or in front of children.

Tennessee lawmakers have approved a bill that will ban drag performances in public or in front of children.

Organizers of LGBTQ Pride events say such bans could effectively cancel their parades and festival performances which frequently take place in public parks in the afternoon.

One of the odd aspects about the suddenly rise of animosity towards drag is that it’s an art form that has existed in mainstream entertainment for decades.

Going back to the 1950s, comedy legend Milton Berle frequently appeared in drag on the hit TV show, Texaco Star Theater. Cartoon icon Bugs Bunny would vamp it up in drag.

More recently there have been hit TV shows and movies predicated on the situation of men in drag like Bosom Buddies, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Tootsie.

Tennessee Lawmakers Approve Bill Banning Drag From Public

Today, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a major TV hit with 27 Primetime Emmy wins to date. And then there are the enormously popular drag brunches across the country that generate big income for restaurants.

The lawmakers in Tennessee didn’t use the words “drag show” or “drag queens” in their bill.  Instead, the legislation takes a three-step process to ban the performances.

First, the bill alters the definition of “adult cabaret” under state law to mean “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.”

Next, “male or female impersonators” will fall under the category of adult cabaret which also includes strippers, topless dancers, and exotic dancers.

And then, the legislation bans adult cabaret from taking place on public property or any place where minors might be present. Performers could face a misdemeanor charge, or a felony if it’s a repeat offense.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, the legislation’s Republican sponsor, has told the press that his bill addresses “sexually suggestive drag shows” that are inappropriate for children.

But it’s worth noting that drag performances don’t typically involve stripping or nudity. While drag shows may utilize sexually explicit or profane language,  drag performers avoid that kind of content when hosting Pride events or reading to children at public libraries for drag story hours.

And when drag queens do use sexually explicit language, it’s in venues serving alcohol where minors aren’t allowed.

So, it’s easy to see how the bill bans specific things that aren’t happening.

Then there’s this from ABC News on a recent exchange with Republican Gov. Bill Lee:

Lee was fielding questions Monday from reporters about the legislation and other LGBTQ bills when an activist asked him if he remembered “dressing up in drag in 1977.”

Lee was presented with a photo that showed the governor as a high school senior dressed in women’s clothing that was published in the Franklin High School 1977 yearbook. The photo was first posted on Reddit over the weekend.

Lee said it is “ridiculous” to compare the photo to “sexualized entertainment in front of children.”

When asked for specific examples of inappropriate drag shows taking place in front of children, Lee did not cite any, only pointing to a nearby school building and saying he was concerned about protecting children.


Tennessee banning drag is just the latest in the state’s history of anti-gay legislation. The Human Rights Campaign reports that Tennessee has introduced more anti-LGBTQ bills than any other state since 2015.

This drag bill marks the second proposal passed in this legislative session targeting LGBTQ people. Last week, lawmakers approved a bill that bans most gender-affirming care for transgender teens.

Governor Lee has indicated he plans on signing both bills into law.

Several other states – Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Oklahoma –  are considering similar bans.