Tennessee Bill Banning Drag Shows, Gender Affirming Care Passes, Sent To Governor


Tennessee House Republicans on Thursday moved to prohibit “adult-oriented” entertainment from public property and restrict it to age-restricted venues in legislation filed after a flurry of controversies over drag shows across the state.

The bill classifies “male and female impersonators” as adult cabaret performers and bans “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors,” as defined in Tennessee’s obscenity law.

Since the bill was filed, some Republicans have said it would not broadly affect drag shows, only those with material that fits under the state’s existing obscenity laws and a strict obscenity test defined by the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, bill sponsor Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, filed the legislation after he fought a public Pride drag show in Jackson, Tennessee. Todd then called the drag show “child abuse,” though he said he wasn’t aware of the actual content the show would contain.

“This is a common-sense, child safety bill, and I appreciate your support,” Todd said.

LGBTQ advocates, drag performers, and at least one Nashville business owner have said the bill is targeted at vulnerable communities and will potentially have a chilling effect on artistic performances. At least one Republican in the committee also raised questions about potential implications for other types of entertainment, such as professional wrestling and major performing artists.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, argued Thursday the state already has obscenity laws on the books.

“If you’re being obscene in front of children, it is already illegal, correct? If you’re wearing lederhosen and being obscene in front of children, you’ll be arrested, correct?” Johnson said.

The Senate previously approved a version of the legislation on a 26-6 vote, with all of the chamber’s Democrats opposing the measure.

As the House adopted a slightly different version of the bill on Thursday, the Senate will now have a chance to adopt the House version before it goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee. Lee would have 10 days, except Sundays, to sign it into law or issue a veto. If he doesn’t sign, the bill still becomes law.
It’s unclear how the law might be enforced, but it could open up another avenue to challenge drag show performances in court.

The bill sparked a heated debate on the House floor after several Democrats were cut off from questioning under new debate time limits passed by the House Republican supermajority. Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, was admonished by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, for what Sexton said were off-topic comments. Democrats attempted to shout down Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, for going off-topic, though Zachary was allowed to finish his comments.

Drag shows across Tennessee have faced opposition from local governments in recent months and protests at recent drag performances at Diskin Cider in Nashville and other locations. In January, masked protestors brandished Nazi slogans and chanted anti-LGBTQ slurs outside a Cookeville event, WPLN reported.

Banning gender-affirming health care for minors
Tennessee House legislators on Thursday also sent a measure to bar transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming health care to the governor’s desk on a 77-16 vote.

The proposed bill, also introduced in November by Johnson, aims to prohibit healthcare professionals from providing gender-affirming care to minors “to enable a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex.”

The legislation includes exceptions for youth who require treatments like puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and surgeries for reasons other than the treatment of gender dysphoria or “mental condition, disorder, disability, or abnormality.”

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R), who sponsored a companion bill in the House, wrote in an October Tennessean op-ed that his and Johnson’s bills were partially informed by reporting from the conservative podcaster and Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh.

“Cultural forces from the left would like us to accept an alarming new myth, that gender is not a biological reality,” Lamberth wrote.

Gender-affirming health care for transgender youth and adults is considered safe and medically necessary by most major medical organizations.

In September, a set of viral social media posts from Walsh claimed Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee was abusing children by providing gender-affirming medical care to minors. This resulted in calls for an investigation into the hospital’s transgender health clinic from state officials, including Lee.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center accused Walsh of misrepresenting the care provided to transgender youth. In October, the hospital said it would pause gender-affirming surgeries for transgender youth for up to several months while it conducts a review.