NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Lee says it would be “ridiculous” to conflate a recently surfaced yearbook photo of him wearing women’s clothing in high school to draw shows currently under attack in Tennessee and other GOP-led states.
Lee told reporters this week that he plans to sign legislation that would severely restrict where drag shows can take place by banning “adult cabaret entertainment” that is “harmful to minors” from public property or places where children to see the performance.
The bill does not expressly include the words “drag show,” but expands the definition of adult cabaret to include “male or female impersonators,” as well as amateur dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers.
On Monday, Lee was fielding questions from reporters about the legislation and other anti-LGBTQ bills when an activist asked him if he remembered “dressing up as a dragon in 1977.”
Lee was presented with a photo showing the governor as a high school senior dressed in women’s clothing that was published in the 1977 Franklin High School yearbook. The photo was first made available on Reddit over the weekend.
“That’s a ridiculous question,” said Lee, who was visibly angry. “To compromise something like that with sexual entertainment in front of children is a very serious matter.”
When asked about specific examples of inappropriate drag shows taking place in front of children, Lee pointed to the school building near where he was talking to reporters.
“I think the right concern is there in that building,” Lee said. “Children who may be exposed to sexual, obscene entertainment, and we must ensure that they are not.”
This is now the second time a yearbook photo of Lee has sparked controversy. In 2018, Lee said he regretted wearing a Confederate uniform during an “Old South” party after confirming there was a photo of him doing so in a 1980 Auburn University yearbook.
Meanwhile, Lee also confirmed that he plans to sign legislation banning most gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
The GOP-led Statehouse finished advancing the legislation last week, where it is headed for Lee’s desk. The anti-graft show bill is expected to clear the Legislature this week.
Drag does not usually involve nudity or stripping, which is more common in burlesque, another form of entertainment. Sexual language and overt speech are common in performances intended for adult audiences. These routines can involve stand-up comedy that can be raunchy – or lackluster compared to some mainstream comedians.