Tennessee restricts public drag performances

03/03/2023 By Colette Lauture 

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill restricting drag performances in public, making the state the first to enact such legislation.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

The bill, titled HB 9, makes “a person who engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property”—or where viewing by minors is accessible—a criminal offense. First-time offenders will be charged with a misdemeanor. Any second or further violations would be a Class E felony, the legislation adds.

Under the definition of “adult cabaret performance,” included in the bill are “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers.” 

Sponsor of the bill Sen. Jack Johnson tweeted celebratory remarks, writing that “This bill gives confidence to parents that they can take their kids to a public or private show and will not be blindsided by a sexualized performance.”

Lee also signed a bill banning transgender health care for people under the age of 18, as a right-wing and conservative backlash against drag performers and the transgender community has brought about legislative restrictions on these groups.

Activists and allies for drag performers and the LGBTQ community say that laws like HB 9 are attempts at putting a stop to queer spaces and culture. The Human Rights Commission also says that these laws are trying to push LGBTQ people back into the closet.

Drag queen Catrina Lovelace previously told ABC News that drag shows are meant to be “a celebration of life,” spaces where the performer wants audiences to let go of their troubles “for a couple of minutes, an hour or two, whatever the case may be.” Drag performers like Lovelace have also told ABC News that their family-friendly shows are being misunderstood as sexual. 

Several similar bills have recently been introduced against drag shows in states such as Florida, Arizona, and Texas.