A federal judge Friday granted a temporary restraining order preventing enforcement of Tennessee’s anti-drag law against a Pride festival taking place in Blount County Saturday.
A U.S. district court has already found the law unconstitutional, but the prosecutor for Blount County had sent a letter warning Blount County Pride organizers and the college and cities hosting the event that he intended to enforce the law against it.
Blount County District Attorney General Ryan Desmond said he had determined that the ruling striking down the Adult Entertainment Act was applicable only in the Tennessee judicial district where a suit against it originated, which consists mostly of Shelby County and includes the city of Memphis. The Tennessee attorney general has concluded that as well and has appealed the ruling, Desmond added. The Adult Entertainment Act classifies drag performances as “adult cabaret acts” and says they cannot be held on public property or where they might be viewed by a minor.
Blount County Pride and festival headliner Matthew Lovegood, who performs in drag as Flamy Grant, responded by suing Desmond and other public officials Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. They said that Desmond’s letter “is a blatant attempt to chill Plaintiffs’ speech and expression protected under the First Amendment.” In addition to challenging his action overall, they sought a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of the Adult Entertainment Act against their event.
U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer has now granted the order. He said Pride organizers and Lovegood are likely to succeed in their suit and have shown they will probably suffer “irreparable harm” if enforcement of the anti-drag law is allowed. He further noted, “District Attorney Desmond appears to concede that Plaintiffs would pose no harm to children through their onstage performances.” Greer scheduled another hearing on the suit for September 8.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which represents the plaintiffs, issued a press release celebrating the order. “This ruling reinforces that drag performance is constitutionally protected expression under the First Amendment, regardless of where in the state it is performed. To anyone else seeking to restrict the constitutional right of drag performance – you’ll see us in court,” ACLU of Tennessee Legal Director Stella Yarbrough said in the release.
“We are relieved that the court has taken action to ensure that law enforcement will not wrongly apply this unconstitutional law,” added Ari Baker, president of Blount County Pride’s board. “This ruling allows us to fully realize Blount Pride’s goal of creating a safe place for LGBTQ people to connect, celebrate, and share resources. We appreciate the community support and look forward to celebrating with you all on Saturday.”
“This ruling confirms that despite continued attempts to remove LGBTQ people from public life, our First Amendment rights matter just as much as anyone else’s,” noted Grant, who recently topped iTunes Christian album and singles charts. “Our fundamental right to exist as we are and to gather in celebration with our community is protected by the First Amendment on and off the stage.”
The festival, to be held from 1 to 8 p.m. at Maryville College’s Clayton Center for the Arts, is set to include a drag queen story hour, a comedy revue, arts and crafts activities, and performances by various drag queens, climaxing with a concert by Grant.
A federal judge in Texas Thursday granted an order preventing that state’s anti-drag law from taking effect Friday as planned.
Pictured: Drag performer Flamy Grant