The “Drag Ban” bill in Tennessee attempts to demonize drag performers and transgender people alike. It was originally passed in February 2023, but the day before going into effect, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker temporarily blocked the bill for violating the First Amendment.
This legislation makes it an offense for a person to engage in an “adult cabaret performance” in public or in front of people who are not adults. An adult cabaret performance, as defined by the bill, is a performance “that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, or male and female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.” One of the biggest issues with this bill, besides the criminalization of the LGBTQ+ community, is that it is so purposefully vague that it is unclear what could be considered a crime.
This vagueness puts the transgender community in extreme danger. The definition of “male and female impersonators” is too subjective — whose opinion is valid when it comes to defining an impersonator? Conservatives can now use this law as an “excuse” to be transphobic, insinuating that trans people are “dressing up” or “pretending” to be a different gender.
Are plays and musicals in danger of being shut down? What about the kids in middle school plays who are cast as a character of the opposite gender? Surely there are other children in that audience. Even if the children in the show are not intentionally doing anything against this bill, there is now an opportunity for them to get in trouble with the law for dressing up for a school performance.
Another issue with this bill is the lack of definition of who is considered an adult. The bill specifically states “It is an offense for a person to engage in an adult cabaret performance…in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person that is not an adult.” Because opinions vary about the true age of adulthood, it is unclear who is considered “not an adult” by this bill. Where is the line drawn between childhood and adulthood? “A person that is not an adult” could be anywhere from thirteen to twenty-one.
Jon Stewart, an American comedian and political commentator, recently interviewed Oklahoma Sen. Nathan Dahm about his thoughts on gun control and the anti-drag law. Sen. Dahm, attempting to defend the “Drag Ban” bill, said, “The government does have a responsibility, in certain instances, to protect children.” Jon Stewart challenged him: “What’s the leading cause of death amongst children in this country? And I’m going to give you a hint, it’s not drag show readings to children.”
The point of Stewart’s interview was to prove the hypocrisy of the conservatives instating this law. These lawmakers argue that implementing gun control would be infringing on the nation’s rights, yet they are willing to ban drag and endanger transgender people in order to “protect the children.”
The bottom line is that drag performers are not dangerous. Tennessee’s anti-drag bill is not about keeping children safe. This law is based on transphobia, homophobia and overall fear. Its purposefully murky description is a tool implemented for people to spread hate. These lawmakers want more control over the LGBTQ+ community, and this bill makes it easier for them to achieve that.
Saying this bill was created in the name of safety is completely unrealistic. Not only does this law put the LGBTQ+ community in danger, but also children, the very people this bill is trying to protect.
A law put in place that does more harm than good is not a law at all — it is a crime.
Alyssa Coyle is the Fusion Magazine Assistant Photo Editor. Contact her at [email protected].