TEnnessee became the first state to outright ban drag shows in public places Thursday after Gov. Bill Lee signed the provision into law hours after the measure passed in the state Senate.
Drag shows have become the latest target of conservative criticism, as a number of other anti-drag bills have been introduced in at least fourteen other states – including Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and others. The language in the numerous bills is similar to the Tennessee bill, which bans “adult cabaret performances” in public places where minors could be watching. In the Tennessee bill, “adult cabaret” is defined as “adult-oriented performances” that include “male or female impersonators.”
While the law does not make all performances illegal across Tennessee, advocates remain concerned about the bill’s broader implications for the entire queer community. “We are concerned that government officials could easily abuse this law to censor people based on their own subjective views of what they deem appropriate, freezing protected free speech and sending a message to LGBTQ Tennesseans that they are not welcome in our state,” the ACLU of Tennessee he tweeted.
The bill signing also comes after Gov. Lee was criticized earlier this week for what many called him dressing up in bad clothes after a photo of the governor wearing a dress from a 1977 Franklin High Yearbook surfaced on Reddit.
A representative from Franklin High School told NBC News that the photo posted on Reddit “appeared to be Lee,” but noted that there was no name under the photo. Referring to the photo, a spokesman for the governor told The Daily Beast that “the bill specifically protects children from indecent, sexual entertainment, and any attempt to confuse this serious issue with honest school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families.”
US conservatives and far-right groups support similar provisions that they claim will better protect children.
LGBTQ+ advocates argue that these bills are just the latest attack by conservatives after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“As we’ve seen many states, including Oklahoma, advance these complete bans on access to abortion, we’ve had these extremist legislators complete their legislative agenda,” Nicole McAfee, Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma, an organization that supports queer communities in the whole situation, he tells TIME. “Unfortunately, [this] it’s the next social battle for many of these people.”
Here’s what you need to know about the state of anti-drag bills across the country.
Arizona’s drag ban would classify drag shows as part of “adult-oriented performances.”
Artists who perform in front of children under the age of 15 will face at least ten years in prison and be required to register as sex offenders, according to the Arizona Mirror. People who allow minors to watch train shows or even enter a location where something is happening will also be punished.
Sen. Justine Watczak said her state’s anti-drag bill was created in consultation with anti-LGBTQ organizations such as Gays Against Groomers, which are “directly opposed to the sexualization and indoctrination of children” through drag queen story hours And much more.
The bill has been sent to Parliament.
In January, Arkansas State Senator Gary Stubblefield first introduced Senate Bill 43 with specific language prohibiting drag shows from being performed on public property around minors.
Stubblefield said this provision would serve to better protect children from sexual content, which was expanded to include drag queen story hours, where drag queens read to children in places like schools or libraries.
Activist artists claim that accounts of this type are a violation of freedom of expression. “Nobody’s rights should ever be controlled and taken away all the time,” Breyana Canaby, a 34-year-old drag performer who recently moved to Oklahoma from Arkansas, told TIME. “We’re not here to harm kids, we’re not trying to indoctrinate them into anything or force them into anything.”
In early February, state lawmakers removed language in the bill that specifically banned drag shows, opting instead to restrict shows aimed at adults. The bill was signed into law on February 27.
Idaho lawmakers introduced a bill to ban carry in public places on Feb. 27, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Through this bill, parents will be able to sue promoters and organizers of events that allow minors to watch shows that are “sexually suggestive”. Sexual behavior is defined as any movements with “accessories that exaggerate” sexual acts.
The bill is headed to the House State Affairs Committee for a hearing.
In Kansas, Senate Bill 149 was introduced and referred to the Judiciary Committee in early February.
The measure would expand the “crime of promoting obscenity” to include performing drag shows in front of minors. They define drag as when someone displays a gender identity other than the gender they were assigned at birth and “sings, lip-syncs, dances, or otherwise performs.”
The Kentucky state legislature voted in favor of the anti-drag bill, SB 115, on Thursday. The provision would prohibit drag shows from being held on public property or in places where children could see them.
The bill is being advanced for a vote in the full Senate. It will then go to Parliament, if passed.
In Missouri, lawmakers introduced House Bill 1364 on March 1. The bill would make it a criminal offense to engage in, organize or authorize the performance of an adult cabaret performance on public property, which includes drag shows.
The provision would also make it an offense to organize or authorize a drag queen story hour or any other event where a “drag queen…engages in other learning activities with minor children present”.
It adds that if any school district, charter school, or employee or volunteer from a school violates this proposed legislation, the school district or charter school would lose state funding.
The bill has not yet scheduled a hearing.
Montana House Bill 359, which would ban minors from attending drag shows, passed the House during a preliminary vote Thursday, according to KTVH.
“The Republican caucus strongly believes that there is no such thing as a family-friendly drag show,” said bill sponsor Rep. Braxton Mitchell.
The bill was amended to add drag to the list of sexually oriented acts. Businesses hosting drag shows will be prohibited from allowing anyone under 18 to enter.
Nebraska’s LB371, which would have banned anyone under 19 from attending a drag show, was first introduced in January. If alcohol is served at the performance, those under 21 will also be prohibited from attending.
Senator Dave Murman, who authored the bill, said the provision would help “protect children”.
The bill was later amended by Senator Megan Hunt to prohibit children from participating in Bible studies, church camp or other religious programs. “The Legislature finds that there is a well-documented history of indoctrination and sexual abuse of children by religious leaders and clergy,” the amendment added.
Hunt also postponed the bill indefinitely.
In Oklahoma, state lawmakers last voted on Feb. 23 to advance an anti-drag bill, House Bill 2186, to the House floor. The bill would charge violators with felony charges, a fine of up to $20,000 and up to two years in prison.
Community advocates fear that attacks on the drag community are just the beginning of legislation that will attack the queer community as a whole.
“A year ago they were talking about banning transgender people from sports, and they [said they] they would just stop there, but no they don’t,” Conner Caughlin, a 24-year-old drag performer, told TIME. “It’s scary to be in the red right now, but when you don’t have the resources to move, you just have to dig your heels in and keep fighting.”
Senate Bill 585, which would ban adult cabarets on public property and other places where minors could see them, was introduced on March 2.
The text defined “male or female impersonators” as part of the “adult cabaret”.
Violators will be guilty of a first misdemeanor, face a fine of up to $1000 and up to two years in prison.
Texas is considering four bills that would target drag shows. The measures would expand the definition of “sexually oriented businesses” to include places that allow artists to display “a gender identity that differs from the artist’s sex assigned at birth.”
That could mean coffee shops or bookstores that host drag events would have to consider getting an additional license and be subject to different taxes, or stop hosting drag performers, according to the Texas Tribune.
In West Virginia, lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 253, which would criminalize participation in an “adult cabaret performance” that is on “public property” or if it is performed in a place where it “could be seen by a person who is a minor . “
“Male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to the primary interest” fall into this category.
Those convicted of this felony could be fined up to $25,000 or face up to five years in a state penitentiary.
It was introduced in the Senate in January, although no other major legislative action has been taken.
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