Drag Ban Tennessee

Drag artist Vidalia Anne Gentry speaks during a news conference to draw attention to anti-drag bills in the Tennessee legislature Feb. 14 in Nashville, Tenn. John Amis/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign

A federal judge struck down a Tennessee law that banned drag shows in public or where children could watch them, writing that the unconstitutional measure was passed “for the impermissible purpose of chilling constitutionally-protected speech.”

In his ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Parker wrote that the law violates First Amendment freedom of speech protections and was “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”

The law, which Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed in March, would have criminalized “adult cabaret entertainment,” punishing first-time offenders with misdemeanors. Repeat offenders could face felony charges and prison sentences of up to six years if convicted.

The bill was one of at least 26 introduced across the nation this year aiming for drag events. This sudden rush to regulate and ban drag shows, largely by arguing that the performances are harmful to minors, is part of the wider conservative backlash to expanded LGBTQ rights. On Friday, Texas became the largest state to ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill similar to the Texas one this year.

Parker, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee by President Donald Trump, had issued a preliminary injunction at the end of March to block the law from taking effect. In that ruling, he agreed with Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based theater group that produces drag and other performances, that it was too broad.


Friends of George’s celebrated the ruling in a tweet Saturday morning, saying, “WE WON!”

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R), who sponsored the legislation in his chamber, said he was “disappointed” with the ruling.

“Despite the Court’s perplexing reading of the law, I am confident – and have always been – that this legislation does nothing to suppress the First Amendment,” Johnson tweeted Saturday morning. “It is my hope that Attorney General [Jonathan] Skrmetti will appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit.”

Lee’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday morning

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.