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