Public drag shows will soon be illegal in Tennessee after the state's Republican-controlled general assembly passed a bill criminalizing the performance art form, and the state's GOP governor (who himself has dressed in drag) signed it on Thursday.
In a vote along party lines, the state Senate passed the bill restricting "adult cabaret performances" from children's view on public property, with violators facing up to felony charges. Last week, the Tennessee House passed the bill.
Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill within hours of the Senate passing the legislation, according to local media.
The law redefines "male and female impersonators" as adult cabaret performers and bans "adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors." Drag performances could not take place on public property or in venues accessible to minors.
Lee vowed to sign the anti-drag measure recently, despite himself having enjoyed drag in the past. On Saturday, a Reddit user shared an image of Lee wearing a short cheerleader uniform, pearls, and wig while posing alongside two girls in men's suits on a school sports field. According to a caption, the photo is from a 1977 yearbook.
After being confronted about the image of him in women's clothing, Lee feigned outrage that someone had compared what he may have done in the past to the false GOP bogeyman of sexualizing kids through exposure to drag queens reading books or singing Disney songs.
"What a ridiculous, ridiculous question that is," Lee said in an exchange captured and posted on Twitter by The Tennessee Holler. "Conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious subject."
In the run-up to the 2022 midterm election, Republicans across the country seized on drag queens as a scapegoat for GOP outrage and political opportunism, claiming they pose a danger to children.
Lee also signed a bill that severely limits gender-affirming care in the state, following other states that continue to target the health care of transgender people.