On Friday, hours before a new law in Tennessee would have gone into effect, a federal court temporarily prevented the state from implementing the ban on public drag show performances. Judge Thomas L. Parker of the United States District Court has granted an injunction staying the ban’s implementation for 14 days while he decides whether or not it violates the Constitution.
Parker said in the judgment, “At this point, the Court finds that the Statute is likely both vague and overly broad,” He continued, saying that the state has failed to establish a “compelling government interest” for why it should restrict drag performances so harshly.
The bill, which Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed into law earlier this month, restricts “adult cabaret performances” on public property to prevent them from being seen by minors. Violators face a misdemeanor and, if they do it again, a criminal charge.
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The prohibition was supposed to go into effect on April 1 and it applies to“male or female impersonators” who engage in “harmful to kids” performances.
Friends of George’s, a Memphis, Tennessee theater company that features drag performers, filed suit against the state, claiming that it unlawfully sought to “explicitly restrict or chill speech and expression protected by the First Amendment based on its content, its message, and its messenger.”
The law, they argued, “targets the performers themselves, unlawfully restricting their expressive conduct not only within the confines of heavily-regulated adult-oriented establishments but virtually anywhere,” according to the judge’s order.
The below statements are given from CNN.com
“The state maintains that the law is not an outright prohibition because it only targets openly s*xual acts performed in front of children. The Court finds that Plaintiff has made a likely case for subjecting the Statute to strict scrutiny here.”
Parker wrote, “given the Defendants’ lack of a clear answer to the Statute’s purpose considering current state obscenity laws, along with the Parties’ present filings on the Statute’s legislative history, the Court finds that Plaintiff has made a likely case for subjecting the Statute to strict scrutiny here.”
The plaintiff’s attorney, Melissa Stewart, celebrated the judge’s order, saying that it “will protect the First Amendment rights of not only our clients, but of the LGBTQIA community across Tennessee, while we move forward with the next steps in this litigation.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on Friday night. Tennessee became the first state to limit public drag show performances this year after Governor Bill Lee signed the law, one of roughly a dozen such bills making their way through GOP-led state legislatures.
Some in favor of the performances say the proposed rules are discriminatory against the LGBTQ population and could violate First Amendment laws, while Republicans fear the shows expose youngsters to inappropriate s*xual themes and imagery.
These shows, which typically feature men dressed as women in exaggerated makeup while singing or entertaining a crowd (although some shows feature bawdier content), have been attacked on occasion as drag culture has become more mainstream, and LGBTQ advocates say the bills under consideration add to a heightened state of alarm for the community.
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