Federal judge strikes down Tennessee’s ban on drag shows

A federal judge has struck down a Tennessee law that banned drag shows in public places as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI

June 3 (UPI) — A federal judge in Tennessee has ruled that the state’s controversial law banning drag performances is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Parker said in a ruling issued Friday that “despite Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of children,” the law known as the Adult Entertainment Act is an “unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech.”

The law bans drag show performances in public spaces and in the presence of anyone under the age of 18.

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law in early March.

The measure outlaws “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors…and that feature go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers.” It was set to take effect in March until it was blocked by Parker, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Donald Trump.

One of those who challenged the law, a Memphis-based theater group, Friends of George’s, applauded Parker’s ruling.

GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, also applauded the ruling.

“This ruling is a turning point and we will not go back,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a Twitter post. “Every anti-LGBTQ elected official is on notice that these baseless laws will not stand and that our constitutional freedom of speech and expression protects everyone and propels our culture forward.

“Congratulations and thank you to Friends of George’s and their attorneys for speaking up and fighting for everyone’s freedom. Their bravery will inspire many other challenges to discrimination.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., echoed the LGBTQ activists’ support of the ruling.

“I am pleased to see Judge Parker’s decision that Tennessee’s much-maligned anti-drag law is unconstitutional,” Cohen said in a statement. “The law has been ridiculed nationally and Tennessee has been derided in the press.”


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