TEnnessee became the first state to specifically ban drag shows in public spaces Thursday after Gov. Bill Lee signed the provision into law hours after the measure passed in the state Senate.
Drag shows have become the latest target of conservative criticism, as a number of other anti-drag bills have been introduced in at least fourteen states – including Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and others. The language is across numerous bills like the Tennessee bill, which bans “adult cabaret performances” in public places where minors might watch. In the Tennessee bill, “adult cabaret” is defined as “performances aimed at adults” that include “male or female impersonators.”
While the law does not make all drag shows illegal across Tennessee, advocates remain concerned about the bill’s broader effects on the queer community. “We are concerned that government officials could easily abuse this law to censor people based on their own subjective view of what they deem appropriate, chilling protected free speech and sending a message to Tennesseans LGBTQ are not welcome in our state,” the ACLU. of Tennessee tweeted.
The signing of the bill also comes after Gov. Lee was criticized earlier this week for what many called him dressing in drag, after a photo of what appeared to be the governor wearing a dress from Franklin High’s 1977 yearbook appeared on Reddit.
A Franklin High School spokesperson told NBC News that the photo posted to Reddit appeared to be Lee, but noted that there was no name under the photo. Referring to the photo, a spokesperson for the governor told The Daily Beast that “the bill specifically protects children from sexually explicit entertainment, and any attempt to tie this serious issue to light school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families.”
Conservatives across the US and far-right groups are proposing similar provisions that they claim will better protect children.
LGBTQ+ advocates argue that these bills are just the latest attack by conservatives after Roe v. Wade to be cancelled.
“As we’ve seen many states, including Oklahoma, advance these complete bans on access to abortion, we’ve had these extremist legislators carry out their legislative agendas,” Nicole McAfee, Freedom Oklahoma’s Executive Director, an organization that advocates for queer communities throughout the. state, TIME tells. “Unfortunately, [this] the next social battle for many of those people.”
Here’s what you need to know about the status of anti-draft bills across the country.
Arizona’s drag ban characterized drag shows as part of “adult-oriented performances.”
Artists who perform in front of children under the age of 15 would be subject to at least ten years in prison, and forced to register as sex offenders, according to the Arizona Mirror. People who allow minors to see drag shows or even enter a scene where one is taking place will also be punished.
Senator Justine Wadsack said her state’s anti-drag bill was created after she consulted with anti-LGBTQ organizations like Gays Against Groomers, which “directly opposes the sexualization and indoctrination of children” through hours of drag queen stories, and more more.
The bill has been sent to the House.
In January, Arkansas State Senator Gary Stubblefield introduced Senate Bill 43 for the first time with specific language that prohibited drag shows on public property around minors.
Stubblefield said the provision would better protect children from sexually explicit content, which was expanded to sometimes include drag queen stories, where drag queens read to children in places like schools or libraries.
Drag performers argue that these types of bills are a violation of their freedom of speech. “Nobody’s rights should always be controlled and eliminated,” Breyana Canaby, a 34-year-old drag performer who recently moved to Oklahoma from Arkansas, told TIME. “We’re not here to harm children, we’re not here to indoctrinate them into anything or push them into anything.”
In early February, state lawmakers removed language in the bill that expressly banned drag shows, opting instead to restrict “adult-oriented” shows. The bill was signed into law on February 27.
Idaho lawmakers introduced a bill to ban drag in public spaces on February 27, according to the Idaho State.
Through this bill, parents would be able to sue event organizers and promoters who allow minors to watch shows that contain “sexual behavior”. Sexual behavior is defined as any movements with “accessories that exaggerate” sexual acts.
The bill goes to the House State Affairs Committee for a hearing.
In Kansas, Senate Bill 149 was introduced and referred to the Judiciary Committee in early February.
The measure would expand the “crime of promoting obscenity” to include drag shows in front of minors. They define drag as when a person exhibits a gender identity different from the gender they were assigned at birth, and “sings, lip-syncs, dances or otherwise performs.”
The Kentucky state legislature voted to pass their anti-graft bill, SB 115, on Thursday. The provision would prohibit drag performances from taking place on public property or in places where children could see them.
The bill moves to the full Senate for a vote. It will then go to the House, if passed.
In Missouri, lawmakers introduced House Bill 1364 on March 1. The bill would make it a crime to participate in, organize, or authorize the viewing of an adult cabaret performance on public property, including drag shows.
The provision would also make it an offense to organize or authorize a drag queen story hour, or any other event where “a drag queen…engages in other learning activities with minor children present.”
It also states that if any school district, charter school, or employee or volunteer from a school violates this proposed legislation, the school district or charter school will lose state funding.
The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Montana House Bill 359, which would have banned minors from attending drag performances, passed the House during a preliminary vote Thursday, according to KTVH.
“Our Republican caucus strongly believes that there is no such thing as a family-friendly drag show,” said bill sponsor Rep. Braxton Mitchell.
The bill was amended to add attraction to the list of sexually oriented acts. Businesses that host drag shows would be prohibited from allowing people under the age of 18 inside.
Nebraska’s LB371, which would prohibit anyone under the age of 19 from attending a drag show, was first introduced in January. If alcohol is served at the show, people under the age of 21 would also be prohibited from attending.
Senator Dave Murman, who wrote the bill, said the provision would help “protect children.”
The bill was later amended by Senator Megan Hunt, to prevent children from participating in Bible studies, church camp, or other religious programs. “The Legislature finds that there is a well-documented history of indoctrination and sexual abuse of children by religious leaders and clerics,” she said in the amendment.
Hunt also postponed the bill indefinitely.
In Oklahoma, state lawmakers voted for the last time on February 23 to send an anti-graft bill, House Bill 2186, to the House floor. The bill would subject violators to felony charges, a fine of up to $20,000, and up to two years in prison.
Advocates in the community fear that the attacks against the drag community are just the beginning of legislation that will attack the queer community as a whole.
“A year ago they were talking about banning transgender people in sports, and they [said they] they’ll stop there, but no, no,” Conner Caughlin, a 24-year-old drag performer, previously told TIME. “It’s terrible to be in the red right now, but when you don’t have the resources to move, you just have to dig your heels in and keep fighting.”
Senate Bill 585 was introduced on March 2, which would ban adult cabaret on public property and other places where minors could see it.
The text defined “male or female entertainer” as part of an “adult cabaret.”
Violators would be guilty of a first offense misdemeanor, fined up to $1000, and up to two years in prison.
Texas is considering four bills that would target drag shows. The measures would expand the definition of “sexually oriented businesses” to include venues that allow artists to “display a gender identity that differs from the performer’s gender assigned at birth.”
This could mean that coffee shops or bookstores that host drag events would have to consider getting additional licensing and being subject to different taxes, or stop hosting drag artists, according to the Texas Tribune .
In West Virginia, lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 253, which would criminalize an “adult cabaret performance” performed on “public property” or where “a minor could see it. “
It is under this category that “a person or woman who provides entertainment that appeals to the interest of prudence”.
People convicted of this felony could be fined up to $25,000 or face up to five years in a state correctional facility.
It was introduced to the Senate in January, although no further legislative action has been taken.
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