Federal judge temporarily blocks Tennessee anti-drag law
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked Tennessee’s first law imposing strict limits on drag shows just hours before it took effect, siding with a group that filed a lawsuit seeking the law violates the First Amendment.
The decision comes after Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBTQ+ theater company, filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy and the state.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker issued the temporary injunction after hearing arguments from both sides on Thursday.
Parker wrote that the state failed to present a convincing argument as to why Tennessee needed the new law, adding that the court also agrees that the law is likely vague and overbroad.
The word “drag” does not appear in the new law, which instead changed the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee to mean “performances intended for adults that harm minors.” Additionally, “male or female impersonators” are now classified as a form of adult cabaret, similar to strippers and topless, go-go, and exotic dancers.
The law prohibited adult cabaret performances on public property or anywhere minors might be present. Performers who break the law risk being charged with a misdemeanor or felony if they do so again.
“The law prohibits a drag performer wearing a crop top and miniskirt from dancing where minors might see him, but does not prohibit a Tennessee Titans cheerleader wearing identical attire from performing exact same dance in front of children,” the original complaint alleges. .
Parker also listed concerns consistent with the group’s argument that the law was too broad, questioning the location specifications of a cabaret entertainment venue that could be viewed by a minor.
“Does a citizen’s private residence count? How about a campsite in a national park? Parker wrote. “Ultimately, the broad language of the Statute collides with the strict constraints of the First Amendment.”
The complaint also details efforts last year to block a drag show at a park in Jackson, west of Nashville, as part of a Pride festival. A legal complaint led by Republican State Rep. Chris Todd and Republican State Senator Ed Jackson sought to shut down the show, forcing organizers to reach a settlement to hold the event indoors with a age limit.
“After abusing state courts to violate Jackson Pride’s First Amendment rights, Rep. Todd “was asked to propose legislation that would make it much clearer” — that drag performances in front of children are a violation of Tennessee law,” the complaint pleads.
Parker referenced Todd’s actions in his decision on Friday, saying the state attorney general’s office did not provide a clear answer on the purpose of the new law given current obscenity laws. of Tennessee.
During Thursday’s hearing, Mulroy told the judge he did not object to a temporary restraining order.
“There has been a great deal of concern and confusion about the law from the community,” Mulroy said in a statement to The Associated Press. “This will allow the court to clarify the scope, application and constitutionality of the law. It is important to understand the scope of this law so that it does not adversely affect constitutionally protected expression.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Tennessee’s streak law marks the second major proposal targeting LGBTQ+ people passed by state lawmakers this year. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has signed into law a GOP-backed law banning most gender-affirming treatments.
Lee has come under fire for endorsing the anti-drag show law, especially since a photo of him as a high school student dressed in women’s clothing surfaced in 1977.
Lee called the comparison of the two issues “ridiculous”. When asked for specific examples of inappropriate drag shows taking place in front of children, Lee did not cite any, but said he was concerned about the protection of children.