A federal judge ruled that Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation law that placed restrictions on drag shows is unconstitutional in a decision Friday.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the legislation this past March, making Tennessee the first state to issue restrictions on oftentimes lewd drag shows. The bill included a provision that prohibits drag shows from being held on public property or near schools and came on the heels of another piece of legislation that banned gender reassignment surgeries for minors.
The word “drag” does not appear in the Tennessee bill. Instead, it changes the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee’s law to mean “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.” In addition, “male or female impersonators” would fall under adult cabaret among topless dancers and strippers, the Associated Press reported.
Adult cabaret was then to be prohibited on public property or near anywhere minors could be present. Starting July 1, drag performers were to be threatened with misdemeanor charges if found to be in violation of the new measures. Repeat offenders would face felony charges.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker — a Trump appointee — ruled Friday that the law is both “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” and encouraged “discriminatory enforcement,”
“There is no question that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. But there is a difference between material that is ‘obscene’ in the vernacular, and material that is ‘obscene’ under the law,” Parker said. “Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” the judge ruled.
Parker cited an example of a female Elvis impersonator who could be at risk of punishment under the law because they would be considered a “male impersonator.”
The ruling was issued in response to a complaint filed by Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBT theater company, who said the law would negatively impact them because they produce “drag-centric performances, comedy sketches, and plays,” without age restrictions.
“This win represents a triumph over hate,” the theater company said in a statement Saturday, per the AP. “Similar to the countless battles the LGBTQ+ community has faced over the last several decades, our collective success relies upon everyone speaking out and taking a stand against bigotry,” the group said.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, a Republican and one of the legislation’s top sponsors, expressed disappointment with the ruling. “Sadly, this ruling is a victory for those who support exposing children to sexual entertainment,” Johnson said, adding that he hopes the state’s attorney general will file an appeal.