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Explaining the temporary halt on Tennessee's 'drag ban'

Scripps News spoke to a political analyst to gain insights into a federal judge's ruling declaring Tennessee's "drag ban" unconstitutional.
Explaining the temporary halt on Tennessee’s ‘drag ban’ law
Posted at 8:11 PM, Jun 04, 2023

A federal judge overturned a new law that restricts drag performances in Tennessee, banning them in public spaces or in places in front of minors.

The new law was supposed to take effect at the beginning of April. However, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, appointed by former President Donald Trump, called the law "unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad."

Proponents of the law argue the legislation is meant to protect children from being exposed to obscene entertainment, but critics say the law targets the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the ruling, the Adult Entertainment Act is not written to protect minors while also noting the state’s existing laws have the power to "punish most, and possibly all, of the conduct" the act seeks to regulate. 

In a statement on Twitter, Republican State Senator Jack Johnson, the bill’s sponsor, said he was disappointed with the judge’s decision and said the ruling "is a victory for those who support exposing children to sexual entertainment."

At least nine GOP-led states have proposed similar legislation that would restrict or criminalize drag shows.

SEE MORE: Tennessee federal judge rules 'drag ban' is unconstitutional

Political analyst Isaac Wright, based in Tennessee, said the law was poorly written from the beginning.

"Bad legislation is bad legislation. This was a Trump-appointed judge. It was simply a matter of the fact that this was a poorly written, bad piece of legislation that frankly had some bad things underneath it in terms of the reasoning," Wright said.

He said laws like this are nothing new and have been proposed by state legislatures for over 150 years.

"That’s actually one of the pieces of good news; we know these laws have been implemented before. They have actually passed, and they have been repealed. So, we know that if things are done to harass or to persecute law-abiding citizens in the state of Tennessee, that it can be fixed," Wright said.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a series of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the state, including one widely seen as being used to attack drag shows and performances.

"Yes. Drag queens are not specifically mentioned in the anti-drag bill. It is very clear the audience that is going after," Joseph Clark, the CEO of Gay Days Inc., said during an interview with Scripps News. Gay Days Inc. organizes a prominent pride celebration in Orlando, Florida, which attracts attendees from all over the world.

Clark said laws like this are dangerous.

"We're just getting such a bad rep because of Governor DeSantis and the legislation that's being passed. And it's disheartening. It's disheartening to see because we've come a long way as a community. Um, and now it feels like we're just taking all these steps backwards," Clark said.

It’s possible Tennessee’s Republican attorney general, Jonathan Skrmetti, could appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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