We know Republicans have been fighting hard to silence openly LGBTQ+ folks and allies on both the state and federal levels. Conservatives have pushed—with varying degrees of success, mind you—bills that seek to bar trans and nonbinary youth from receiving safe and age-appropriate gender-affirming health care, from playing on the sports teams that align with their gender identity, and of course, from using the damn bathroom. It’s an ongoing nightmare, and somehow, that’s not all Republicans are working with.
Daily Kos continues to cover the ongoing efforts to pull books by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ folks from public school classrooms and libraries, usually under the vague guise of “parental consent” and “parental rights.” The idea that queer folks are inherently “inappropriate” or “obscene” is rooted in the notion that queer people are uniquely and intrinsically sexual and predatory, which is (obviously) not the case. But that logic is part of the reason Tennessee Republicans are making headway with bills that seek to ban drag shows from not only public spaces but anywhere that could be viewed by a minor.
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House Bill 00009 passed in the Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 23. The bill passed with a vote of 74-19 and now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Bill Lee, as reported by local outlet 10 News. The Senate version of the same bill, SB 0003, passed with a 26-6 vote on Feb. 9.
If Lee signs this bill into law, this bill would make it a criminal offense to participate in an adult cabaret performance on public property or anywhere that could be in view of a person under 18. The first offense would get you a Class A misdemeanor. All subsequent offenses would be Class E felony charges. That felony charge carries a sentence of between one and six years in prison.
How and why does this make sense? Well, it fundamentally doesn’t...
But the bill seeks to redefine all drag shows as “adult cabaret” performances, though interestingly, there’s already a law on the books in Tennessee that categorizes “male or female impersonators” as adult cabaret performers. This bill wants to explicitly include “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration.”
This bill would also ban any “adult cabaret” shows from happening on public property—like a park, for example. And in fact, not even just inside the hypothetical park, but within 1,000 feet of it. It also bans shows from being held in a place where they “could be viewed by a person who is not an adult” Could be viewed? Sounds vague, right? That’s because it is.
Where could drag shows—excuse me, adult cabaret performances—be held, then? Bars and restaurants could still host them, per this legislation. The bill would require establishments to check IDs to verify attendees are at least 18 years old, which is fairly common depending on the specific show and venue anyway.
"The passing of my bill in the Tennessee Senate is a huge accomplishment in the fight to keep our kids safe,” said Republican state Sen. Jack Johnson, who introduced the Senate version of the bill, as reported by local outlet WZTV Nashville. “As a dad, you can be certain I’ll continue my fight to safeguard our Tennessee kids."
But not for the rights and safety of trans Tennessee kids, right?
"It's a straw man, it's a boogie monster,” Peppermint, an openly trans drag performer said in an interview with Reuters. “It's not really a real thing, so they make up stories.” She went on to tell the outlet that conservatives “target us, dehumanize us, villainize us, and then they pass legislation against us.”
Peppermint also told the outlet that she is concerned about traveling to Tennessee as an openly trans person, as she’s worried trans folks might be accused of doing drag even when not actually performing, just by virtue of being trans.
I wish I could say that would never happen, but I don’t know that. In fact, it’s an extremely valid concern and a reminder that none of these bills are transparent. It’s not just about sports, bathrooms, or parents being involved in their child’s education. It’s actually about hate, discrimination, exclusion, and fearmongering. That’s it.