Tennessee Becomes First State to Ban Drag Shows on Public Property

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Tennessee on Thursday became the first state to sharply restrict drag performances as the state’s governor, Bill Lee, signed a bill banning the shows on public property and in places where they could be watched by minors.

The law, which limits “adult cabaret” performances that feature “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators,” will take effect later this year. Those who violate the new law will be charged with a misdemeanor, or a felony for subsequent offenses.

The new law came amid attacks by Republicans on the rights of transgender and L.G.B.T.Q. Americans across the country. On Thursday, Mr. Lee, a Republican, also signed a separate bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

When asked by reporters last month about the drag bill, Mr. Lee referred to the shows as “sexualized entertainment in front of children,” according to The Associated Press. At the same time, a photograph of the governor wearing a dress, which was published in his 1977 school yearbook, surfaced on Reddit. He told reporters that it was “ridiculous” to compare the two.

Though the drag law is part of a broader push by Republicans to restrict such shows across the country, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee said that it did not believe the law would make it illegal to perform in drag in the state.

According to the A.C.L.U., the language of the law, which will restrict performances that are “harmful to minors,” is narrow, covering only extreme sexual or violent content that has no artistic value. According to the organization, drag performances do not fall into this category and are protected by the First Amendment.

“The law bans obscene performances, and drag performances are not inherently obscene,” Stella Yarbrough, the legal director of the A.C.L.U. of Tennessee, said in a statement.

She added, however, that the organization was concerned that elected officials could easily abuse the new law to censor people, “chilling protected free speech and sending a message to L.G.B.T.Q. Tennesseans that they are not welcome in our state.” Ms. Yarbrough said the A.C.L.U. would challenge any enforcement of the law used to punish drag performers or to shut down family-friendly events.

A spokeswoman for the governor could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday night.

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