Tennessee becomes first US state to ban public drag performances

Tennessee has become the first US state to ban public drag performances.

The state’s Republican governor Bill Lee signed the bill, which classifies the performances as adult cabaret, into law on Thursday.

While the word “drag” does not appear in the bill, it changes the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee’s law to mean “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors”.

It also says “male or female impersonators” now fall under adult cabaret, among topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers.

The bill bans adult cabaret from public property or anywhere minors might be present.

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Performers are threatened with a misdemeanour charge, or felony if it is a repeat offence.

There were concerns the bill could be used to target transgender people, but sponsors said that was not the intent.

The Tennessee Pride Chamber, a business advocacy group, predicted “selective surveillance and enforcement” would lead to court challenges and “massive expenses” as governments defend what it calls an unconstitutional law that will harm the state’s brand.

“Tourism, which contributes significantly to our state’s growth and well-being, may well suffer from boycotts disproportionately affecting members of our community who work in Tennessee’s restaurants, arts, and hospitality industries,” chamber president Brian Rosman told The Associated Press.

“Corporations will not continue to expand or relocate here if their employees – and their recruits – don’t feel safe or welcomed in Tennessee.”

Pride will be ‘more of a march than a celebration’

John Camp, a Pride event organiser in Knoxville, said the event in Tennessee’s third-largest city will be sombre this October.

He said it would be “more of a march than a celebration”.

There were 100 drag performers last year, he said, but he was unsure how many can participate this year.

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Governor asked if he remembered ‘dressing up in drag’

The drag bill in Tennessee is the second major proposal passed in the state this year affecting LGBT+ communities.

Mr Lee also signed a bill banning transgender minors from receiving treatments such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery.

While being interviewed by journalists, the governor was asked by an activist if he remembered “dressing up in drag in 1977” and showed a photo of the governor as a high school senior dressed in women’s clothing that was published in the Franklin High School 1977 yearbook.

Mr Lee said it was “ridiculous” to compare the photo to “sexualised entertainment in front of children”.

Several other states, including Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma and Utah are considering similar bans.