Tennessee became the first state to explicitly ban drag shows in public spaces on 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 slew of other anti-drag bills have been introduced in at least fourteen other states—including Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and others. Language across the numerous bills is similar to the Tennessee bill, which prohibits “adult cabaret performances” in public places where minors could watch. In Tennessee’s bill, “adult cabaret” is defined as “adult-oriented performances” that include “male or female impersonators.”
While the law does not make all drag shows illegal across Tennessee, advocates still worry about the broader effects of the bill across the queer community. “We are concerned that government officials could easily abuse this law to censor people based on their own subjective viewpoints of what they deem appropriate, chilling protected free speech & sending a message to LGBTQ Tennesseans that they are not welcome in our state,” the ACLU of Tennessee tweeted.
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The bill signing also comes after Gov. Lee was criticized earlier this week for what many called him dressing in drag, after a photo of what appears to be the governor wearing a dress from a 1977 Franklin High Yearbook surfaced on Reddit.
A spokesperson from Franklin High School told NBC News the photo posted to Reddit “appeared to be Lee,” but noted there was no name under the photo. In reference to the photo, a spokesperson for the governor told The Daily Beast that “the bill specifically protects children from obscene, sexualized entertainment, and any attempt to conflate this serious issue with lighthearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families.”
Conservatives across the U.S. and far-right groups are advocating for similar provisions that they claim will better protect children.
LGBTQ+ advocates contend that these bills are just the latest attack from conservatives following the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
“As we saw a lot of states, including Oklahoma, advance these full bans on abortion access, we had these extremist legislators who accomplished their legislative agendas,” Nicole McAfee, Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma, an organization that advocates for queer communities across the state, tells TIME. “Unfortunately, [this] is the next social battle for many of those folks.”
Here’s what to know about the status of anti-drag bills around the country.
Arizona’s drag ban would characterize drag shows as a part of “adult-oriented performances.”
Artists that perform in front of children under 15 years old would be subject to at least ten years in prison, and forced to register as sex offenders, according to the Arizona Mirror. People who allow minors to view drag shows or even enter a location where one is happening would also be punished.
Sen. Justine Wadsack said her state’s anti-drag bill was created after she conferred with anti-LGBTQ organizations like Gays Against Groomers, which “directly opposes the sexualization and indoctrination of children” through drag queen story hours, and more.
The bill has been sent to the House.
In January, Arkansas State Sen. Gary Stubblefield first introduced Senate Bill 43 with explicit language prohibiting drag shows from being performed on public property around minors.
Stubblefield said this provision would serve to better protect children from sexually explicit content, which extended to include drag queen story hours, where drag queens read to kids in places like schools or libraries.
Drag performers contend that bills of this type are an infringement on their freedom of expression. “No one’s rights should ever have to be constantly controlled and eliminated,” Breyana Canaby, a 34-year-old drag performer who recently moved to Oklahoma from Arkansas, told TIME. “We’re not here harming children, we’re not here trying to indoctrinate them into anything or coerce them into anything.”
In early February, state legislators removed language in the bill that explicitly prohibited drag performances, instead opting to restrict “adult-oriented” shows. The bill was signed into law on Feb. 27.
Idaho legislators introduced a bill to ban drag in public spaces on Feb. 27, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Through this bill, parents would be able to sue event organizers and promoters that permit minors to watch shows that have “sexual conduct.” Sexual conduct is defined as any movements with “accessories that exaggerate” sexual acts.
House Bill 265 also requires organizers of these types of shows to take “reasonable steps to restrict minors from attending the shows, such as checking IDs,” according to the Idaho Capital Sun.
The Idaho House of Representatives passed the bill on March 7. The proposed legislation advances to the Senate for a vote.
In Kansas, Senate Bill 149 was introduced and referred to the Committee on Judiciary 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 different from the gender they were assigned at birth, and “sings, lip-syncs, dances or otherwise performs.”
The Kentucky state legislature voted to advance their anti-drag bill, SB 115, on Thursday. The provision would prohibit drag performances from taking place on public property or in places where they could be seen by children.
The bill moves for a vote to the full Senate. It will then go to the House, if passed.
In Missouri, legislators introduced House Bill 1364 on March 1. The bill would criminalize engaging, organizing, or authorizing the viewing 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 will lose funding from the state.
The bill does not yet have a hearing scheduled.
Montana’s House Bill 359, which would prohibit minors from attending drag performances, passed the House during a preliminary vote on Thursday, according to KTVH.
“Our Republican caucus believes strongly that there is no such thing as a family-friendly drag show,” said bill sponsor Rep. Braxton Mitchell.
The bill was modified to add drag to the list of sexually oriented acts. Businesses hosting drag performances would be forbidden from permitting people under the age of 18 inside.
Nebraska’s LB371, which would prohibit anyone under the age of 19 from attending a drag show, was first introduced in January. If alcohol is served at the show, people under the age of 21 would also be prohibited from attending.
Sen. Dave Murman, who authored the bill, said that the provision would help “protect children.”
The bill was later amended by Sen. 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 perpetrated by religious leaders and clergy people upon children,” she added in the amendment.
Hunt also indefinitely postponed the bill.
In Oklahoma, state legislators 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 jail.
Advocates in the community fear that attacks against 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 trans people in sports, and they [said they] were just gonna stop there, but no they’re not,” Conner Caughlin, a 24-year-old drag performer, previously told TIME. “It’s terrifying to be in a red state right now, but when you don’t have the resources to move, you just kind of have to dig your heels in and keep on fighting.”
Senate Bill 585, which would prohibit adult cabaret on public property and other places where it could be viewed by minors, was introduced on March 2.
The text defined “male or female impersonators” as a part of “adult cabaret.”
Violators would be guilty of a first offense 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 extend the definition of “sexually-oriented businesses” to include places that allow artists to show a “gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth.”
This could mean coffee shops or bookstores that host drag events would have to consider between getting additional licensing and being subject to different taxes, or stop hosting drag artists, according to the Texas Tribune. The bills have been sent to the Senate and House State Affairs Committee.
In West Virginia, legislators introduced Senate Bill 253, which would criminalize engaging in an “adult cabaret performance” that is on “public property” or if it is performed in a place where it “could be viewed by a person who is a minor.”
“Male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to the prurient interest” fall under this category.
People convicted of this felony could be fined up to $25,000 or face up to five years in a state correctional facility.
It was introduced to the Senate in January, though no other major legislative action has been taken.
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