Tennessee bill aims to ban drag shows, other adult entertainment on public property

The state of Tennessee could ban drag shows and other adult entertainment pending a bill pushed by the state legislature.

A bill banning go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers on public property and for those under the age of 18 was approved Tuesday by the Tennessee House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, according to FOX 17 Nashville. It will now advance to the House Criminal Justice Committee.

“This is a sensible child safety bill,” said Rep. Chris Todd, a Republican who sponsored HB. 9, per report.

The bill intends to ban “adult cabaret entertainment” that is “harmful to minors,” including “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a lustful interest, or similar entertainers.”

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A drag queen performs during a drag show during Pride Month celebrations June 25, 2022 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
(ALLISON JOYCE/AFP via Getty Images)

“There is confusion in the law as to which performances are covered. This clarifies what crosses the line of what is harmful to minors,” Todd added.

While the bill effectively bans drag shows, it does not use the term explicitly.

Republicans in the state have claimed that drag shows can lead to the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.

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Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, a Republican, introduced the legislation towards the end of 2022 with his own bill restricting gender-biased surgeries for those under the age of 18.

“We will not subject our children to these types of inappropriate, sexually explicit performances,” Senator Johnson told the network in November 2022 after drag performances involving children became more popular.

TV personalities and drag queens Asia O'Hara, Aquaria, Acid Betty, Yvie Oddly and Kameron Michaels perform during Drive 'N Drag at Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall on July 17, 2020 in Paramus, New Jersey.

TV personalities and drag queens Asia O’Hara, Aquaria, Acid Betty, Yvie Oddly and Kameron Michaels perform during Drive ‘N Drag at Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall on July 17, 2020 in Paramus, New Jersey.
(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Johnson said seeing the shows in Chattanooga and other locales prompted him to “follow this legislation to make sure our laws are consistent,” WZTV reported.

The bill’s critics say its ambiguity could lead to unintended consequences.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat representing the Knoxville area, said the bill was “anti-hate” and said it could unintentionally block bigger stars like Harry Styles, known for his flashy and colorful attire, from appearing in the state to appear .

A drag queen performs at the Aqua Club and Bar in Key West, Florida on March 23, 2019.

A drag queen performs at the Aqua Club and Bar in Key West, Florida on March 23, 2019.
(Paul Harris/Getty Images)

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“I’m curious as to why dancing, but there’s nothing sexual about these things,” Rep. Johnson said during a Jan. 31 committee hearing. “I don’t know if you’ve attended drag shows, I have. I’ve seen things in the community and I haven’t seen what people are saying is happening. I’m curious how many drag shows you’ve been to.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs is a former WWE wrestler who goes by the nickname Kane.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs is a former WWE wrestler who goes by the nickname Kane.
(Mike Coppola/Getty Images/J.Sciulli/WireImage for LIONSGATE)

She continued, “I’m also thinking about why we’re targeting that, because I’m thinking of a place where men wear tights like in WWE wrestling, where at least a third of the audience is kids and they’re doing things their opponents are doing with Handcuffs to a railing and shocks her testicles. I think that’s pretty bad. But somehow someone dressing up and dancing is the problem? Because I can tell you that people at drag shows tend to have more clothes on than people at wrestling.

Modern Greek Architecture, Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville.

Modern Greek Architecture, Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville.
(David Underwood/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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Her comments were aimed at Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, a former WWE wrestler who goes by the nickname Kane.

Jacobs, a Republican, spent over 20 years with WWE after making his debut in 1992.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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