Tennessee's controversial anti-drag law temporarily blocked

The Tennessee anti-drag law has been stopped from taking effect for the next 14 days thanks to an LGBTQ+ theatre company.

A close-up of two drag performers on stage during a production.
Image: Twitter via @GeorgesShowtime

A US federal judge granted a temporary block on Tennessee’s anti-drag law just hours before it was set to take effect.

US District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, handed down the 14-day temporary restraining order due to a lawsuit brought against the state by Memphis-based nonprofit Friends of George’s. Friends of George’s, a theatre company that produces origins, drag-centric performances, sued the state, including Republican Governor Bill Lee, earlier this week over the controversial law.

The anti-drag legislation, officially Tennessee Senate Bill 3, was signed into law on March 2 by Governor Bill Lee, intending to kick in on April 1, 2023. The law would restrict drag performances on public property or “in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult” and individuals could face felony charges on repeat offences.

The law’s passage received national attention and outrage from politicians, performers, celebrities and more, including RuPaul. A benefit concert where Hozier and 20 other major artists performed on March 21 was also organised to protest the legislation.


The Tennessee bill does not outright use the word ‘drag’, but instead uses the term ‘adult cabaret performance’ to mean “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors”, and the terminology “male or female impersonators” would then fall under a form of adult cabaret. The legislation’s vague nature and potential infringement on First Amendment rights played a role in the Friends of George’s case and Judge Parker’s ruling.

“Does a citizen’s private residence count? How about a camping ground at a National Park?” Judge Parker wrote in his order. “Ultimately, the Statute’s broad language clashes with the First Amendment’s tight constraints.”

The judge also contends that the state did not provide clear reasons for the legislation being necessary, considering the state’s current obscenity laws. A hearing on a potential renewal of the temporary injunction on the anti-drag law is scheduled for a day before the Friends of George’s next show on April 14.

In a press release announcing the initial success, the Friends of George’s wrote: “We are committed to landing a victory against hate.”

Goldie Dee Collins, performer, board member, and proud drag queen, continued: “We stand in firm solidarity with all drag performers, the greater LBGTQIA+ community, and countless allies in the fight for Justice, self-expression, and pursuit of happiness.”

This isn’t the only recent legal victory for LGBTQ+ rights in the US. In Texas, a federal judge ordered that at least 12 books removed from libraries by county officials in Llano County must be put back on the shelves within 24 hours.

These books range in discussion from LGBTQ+ issues to racism and discrimination and include titles such as Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings and They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Seven residents filed the lawsuit against Llano County officials, including Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham and county commissioners, in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio in April 2022. The residents claimed their first and 14th amendment rights were violated when the books were removed from the libraries because the county deemed them inappropriate.

Despite these small legal successes, conservative lawmakers nationwide continue a crusade against LGBTQ+ rights.

In Florida, the State House voted to pass an expansion of the infamous ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, which would now ban discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools through the eighth grade. The bill is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate and be signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis.

The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced and on the docket in the US for the 2023 legislative session. As of March 31, the ACLU is tracking 435 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, with Texas having the highest number at 51.


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