Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Tennessee Law That Restricts Drag Performances!

Only hours before it was scheduled to take effect, Tennessee passed the nation’s first law setting tight restrictions on drag shows.

A federal court temporarily delayed the bill on Friday, siding with a group that filed a complaint alleging the statute violates the First Amendment.

The choice was made after Friends of George’s, an LGBTQ+ theater company in Memphis, sued the state and Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy on Monday.

Following Thursday’s deliberations, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker imposed the temporary injunction.

Parker said the court also agrees that the bill is probably unclear and excessively broad, adding that the state has failed to make a convincing case for why Tennessee needed a new law.

The word “drag” doesn’t appear in the new law, which instead changed the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee to mean “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.”

Also included in the category of adult cabaret among strippers, topless, go-go, and exotic dancers are “male or female impersonators.”

Adult cabaret performances were forbidden on public grounds or where minors might be present. If a performer violates the law again, they could face felony or misdemeanor charges.

Judge Temporarily Blocks Tennessee Law That Restricts Drag Performances

“The law prohibits a drag performer wearing a crop top and mini skirt from dancing where minors might see it, but does not prohibit a Tennessee Titans cheerleader wearing an identical outfit from performing the exact same dance in front of children,” the initial complaint contends.

Parker further questioned the geographical requirements of a cabaret entertainment facility that might be seen by a juvenile, raising additional issues that supported the group’s claim that the rule was unduly broad.

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“Does a citizen’s private residence count? How about a camping ground at a national park?” Parker wrote. “Ultimately, the Statute’s broad language clashes with the First Amendment’s tight constraints.”

The complaint also describes the previous year’s efforts to prevent a drag show from taking place as part of a Pride festival in a park in Jackson, west of Nashville.

Republicans Chris Todd and Ed Jackson of the state legislature filed a lawsuit to stop the performance, which compelled the event’s organizers to compromise and host it indoors with an age restriction.

“After abusing the state courts to violate the First Amendment rights of Jackson Pride, Rep. Todd ‘was asked to come up with legislation that would make this much more clear’ — that drag performances in front of children are a violation of Tennessee law,” the complaint argues.

Parker cited Todd’s actions in his Friday ruling, claiming that given Tennessee’s existing obscenity statutes, the state attorney general’s office had not clearly explained the new law’s intent.

Mulroy informed the judge during the hearing on Thursday that he had no objections to a temporary restraining order.

“There has been much concern and confusion about the law from the community,” Mulroy said in a statement to The Associated Press. “This will allow the court to clarify the scope, application, and constitutionality of the statute. It’s important to understand the scope of this law so that it doesn’t have a harmful effect on constitutionally protected expression.”

On Friday, a request for comment was not immediately answered by an attorney general’s office representative.

The passage of the Tennessee drag bill by state legislators this year makes it the second significant initiative aimed at LGBTQ+ persons. Republican Gov. Bill Lee approved legislation that forbids most gender-affirming medical procedures.

When a 1977 photo of Lee as a senior in high school wearing women’s clothing surfaced, Lee came under fire for approving the anti-drug show law.

When asked about specific examples of inappropriate drag shows in front of children, Lee did not identify any but stated he was concerned about protecting children. He called equating the two topics “ridiculous.”

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