Drag show restrictions, ban on gender-affirming care for minors signed into law in Tennessee

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on Thursday signed into law a bill targeting drag performances, as well as a total ban on gender-affirming care for minors.

The state is now the first in the nation to restrict public drag shows, amid a push by Republican lawmakers in conservative states to pass similar legislation, including bills in Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Kansas.

The new law, which goes into effect July 1, prohibits drag performances from taking place in public spaces or around minors.

The word “drag” doesn’t appear in the bill, but the legislation prohibits “adult-oriented performances” to be held on public property or restricts who can see them.

It also redefines “male or female impersonators” as adult cabaret performers — such as topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers — even when drag performers are fully clothed and reading stories for kids in public libraries.

Violators could face jail time and a fine of up to $2,500.

Governor Lee, who signed the bill into law shortly after it passed the state Senate, was recently criticized for announcing he would back the legislation — just days after an old photograph seemed to show him wearing women’s clothes.

According to a post on Reddit, the photo is from a 1977 yearbook. When asked by reporters to comment on the picture, Lee didn’t deny it but said they were “conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious subject.”

Lee also signed into law a ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth, making Tennessee the fourth state to do so in recent weeks despite opposition by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Under the new law, trans youth already receiving gender-affirming healthcare by July 1 will lose access to such care after March 31, 2024. Those in the state not receiving medical care by July 1 will be unable to start.

Later on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union, its Tennessee affiliate and the LGBTQ legal advocacy group Lambda Legal vowed to overturn “this unconstitutional law” and protect the state’s trans youth.

“We will not allow this dangerous law to stand,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“Certain politicians and Governor Lee have made no secret of their intent to discriminate against youth who are transgender,” and they’ve chosen “fearmongering, misrepresentations, intimidation and extremist politics over the rights of families and the lives of transgender youth in Tennessee,” the statement added.