Federal Judge Enjoins Tennessee Law Limiting Drag Shows

A federal judge has temporarily blocked a new Tennessee law limiting drag shows on constitutional grounds. Like many, I have been appalled by some images of very young children watching highly sexualized routines in schools or businesses. However, many of these events are held off school grounds and with the support of their parents. As a parent of four, I cannot imagine taking my kids to some of these shows, but we all raise our kids according to our own values. Putting that concern aside, I have serious free speech concerns over the reach of these laws. Federal district judge Thomas Parker granted an injunction on the grounds that the Tennessee law is vague and overly broad. I think that Judge Parker is right.

A Shelby County-Memphis based LGBTQ theatre company, Friends of George’s, had sued the state of Tennessee over the law.

“Drag” is not defined in the law. Instead drafters modified the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee to mean “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.” Treating all “male or female impersonators” the same as strippers and exotic dancers sweeps across artistic, social, and even political lines. The challengers noted that the same outfit prohibited for drag performers under the law would be entirely legal for cheerleaders or other women in public events.

The vagueness problems could be reduced by limiting the scope to adult entertainment settings. However, Parker noted that the scope of the prohibition is unclear and could include a private home. Section 2 of the Statute makes it “an offense for a person to perform adult cabaret entertainment,” either “(A) On public property; or (B) in a location where the adult cabaret entertainment could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.”

These laws have obvious implications for free expression. Judge Parker was correct to enjoin the law pending further review. It is likely that the law will be declared unconstitutional unless the legislature seeks to amend the law and declare the litigation moot.

Here is the order: 03-31-2023-Order-Granting-TRO


79 thoughts on “Federal Judge Enjoins Tennessee Law Limiting Drag Shows”

  1. While I am generally not supportive of this law in that it interferes with the choices of a parent.

    I am also not persuaded by the counter arguments.

    It is generally recognized that adult entertainment is protected by the first amendment – FOR ADULTS.
    But parents are not free to bring children to strip clubs, or bars.

    I am not persuaded by the “overly broad” or “vague” claims as laws that have been arround for decades barring children are similarly constructed.

    Finally the rights that are being infringed on are those of children – and the first amendment rights of children are far more severely restricted than adults.

  2. “Putting that concern aside”

    You can not put that concern aside.

    Outside of clear evidence of actual harm to children the state should stay 1000 miles away from parents raising their own kids.

    None of us are perfect parents – but the state is worse than all but the very worst parents.

    Charles Manson is the consequence of Government parenting.

    These performances have absolutely no place in our schools.

    But if parents wish to take their kids to drag shows – that is up to them.

  3. Jonathan: Boy, your column has stirred up a hornet’s nest of virulent homophobia. “CattleGun” says: “Judge Parker is 60 years old, but unmarried and without children. Suspicious he’s all in for protecting drag perversions”. CattleGun should be preaching at a Baptist church infamous in my town. The church has large signs out in front that read “Godhatesfags.com” and “FAG Marriage Dooms Nations”. “Judy Filer’ apparently agrees. She says the country started downhill when we permitted gay marriage. “Anonymous” thinks “some drag shows are lewd”. As usual, Anonymous doesn’t know what he is talking about. But that doesn’t stop the LGBTQ haters on this blog from coming out from under their rocks and showing off their ignorance. A strip show or brothel is not the same as a drag show. But some on this blog don’t know the difference because they probably have never been to drag performance.

    And there is so much duplicity by these people. As Svelaz points out in his comment, some on this blog want to protect their kids from a drag show but, at the same time, they want their kids to have guns and hold precious the right to do so. Even though school children are being killed with increasing frequency around the country. As Svelaz aptly notes: “No child has died from being exposed at a drag show”. Maybe “exposed” is not the preferred word but the point is well taken.

    Parents have the right to raise their children the way the want. But remember that the LGBTQ community and drag queens are not your enemies. Many of them have children and are trying to raise them with love and care. You really have more in common than the LBGTQ haters want you to believe. Your real enemy is your ignorance.

    1. I agree pretty much completely with Turley on this.

      But I would note that Turley is NOT where you are.

      There is a great deal of distance between saying – this is not the state’s business,
      and saying – this is good parenting.

      I am not going to FORCE parents to raise their kids according to my demands.
      And that is what this law seeks to do.

      That does not alter the fact that I think it is a mistake to sexualize young kids.
      Or that I think that a drag show is an appropriate venue for a child.

      I would further note that everyone who is concerned about sexualizing children or gay marraige – which I support, is NOT inherently bigotted or a hater.

      I support each persons right to control their own body – whether the the state is seeking to force vaccinations. or to prevent a women from extracting a fetus from her body.

      At the same time I have concur with those who are pro-life that abortion is almost always morally wrong.

      I do not care about the private consensual sexuality of others, that does not mean I think that anything goes on television.

      Everyone who hold views you disagree with is not a bigot or hateful.

      Profile Catholics near universally oppose the death penalty – a position I agree with.

      And your efforts to analogize guns and drag shows is absurd.

    2. Further I would agree with Turely and other posters here – The desire of drag queens to perform to children is in and of itself highly suspect.

      But that is NOT sufficient justification to infringe on a parents choices on parenting.

      I do not have to believe the choices others make are wise – to allow them to make those choices.

      I do not have to presume that all drag performers have good motives for performing before kids, to refuse to infringe on parents rights.

      Just because I think something is wrong or unwise does not mean it can be made illegal.

        1. As I have noted repeatedly – while falling on the deaf ears of the left. On Myriads of issues of individual liberty I am aligned with the LEFT.
          Except that they ALWAYS take everything too far such that they go beyond securing liberty for One and into infringing on the liberty of others.

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