Tennessee anti-drag law ruled unconstitutional by federal judge

The judge found that the anti-drag law passed in Tennessee was "unconstitutionally vague" and would encourage "discriminatory enforcement".

People protesting against an anti-drag law in Tennessee that was deemed unconstitutional, walking down a street waving a progress Pride flag.
Image: Via Twitter - @MikeSington

US federal judge Thomas Parker, appointed by former President Donald Trump, ruled that the law targeting drag performers passed by the Republican legislature in Tennessee is unconstitutional.

In his 70-page ruling handed down on Friday, June 2, Judge Parker stated that the anti-drag law passed in Tennessee represented an “unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech”, adding that it was “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” and would encourage “discriminatory enforcement”.

The law in question was passed by lawmakers on February 23 and was later signed into law by Republican Governor Bill Lee. While the word “drag” doesn’t appear in the text, the law changed the state’s definition of “adult cabaret” to include “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors”.

It also classified “male or female impersonators” as a form of adult cabaret, thus banning such shows from happening in public places where a minor could be among the audience. Moreover, several Republican lawmakers were pointing at drag performances as reasons to explain why the legislation was necessary.

Earlier in March, Friends of George’s, an LGBTQ+ theatre company, filed a complaint against the law, arguing that it represented a violation of free speech. The law, which was due to go into effect on April 1, was temporarily blocked by Judge Parker as he took the time to consider its constitutionality.


In his final ruling on Friday, Parker wrote “The word ‘drag’ never appears in the text […] but the court cannot escape that ‘drag’ was the one common thread in all three specific examples of conduct that was considered ‘harmful to minors’ in the legislative transcript.”

The judge also cited an incident involving Republican state Rep. Chris Todd, one of the law’s sponsors, who pursued legal action to block a drag show in his district, despite the fact that the event was held indoors with an age restriction.

Judge Parker recognised this episode among the reasons to believe that the law was “geared towards placing prospective blocks on drag shows — regardless of their potential harm to minors.”


After the ruling was issued, Friends of George’s took to Twitter to celebrate, saying “WE WON! Judge Parker has declared Tennessee’s anti-drag law unconstitutional!”

In a separate statement, the group said: “This win represents a triumph over hate…Similar to the countless battles the LGBTQ+ community has faced over the last several decades, our collective success relies upon everyone speaking out and taking a stand against bigotry.”

President and CEO of LGBTQ+ media watchdog GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis, also commented on the Tennessee ruling, calling it “a turning point”. Ellis added, “Every anti-LGBTQ elected official is on notice that these baseless laws will not stand and that our constitutional freedom of speech and expression protects everyone and propels our culture forward.”

© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

Support GCN

GCN has been a vital, free-of-charge information service for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community since 1988.

During this global COVID pandemic, we like many other organisations have been impacted greatly in the way we can do business and produce. This means a temporary pause to our print publication and live events and so now more than ever we need your help to continue providing this community resource digitally.

GCN is a registered charity with a not-for-profit business model and we need your support. If you value having an independent LGBTQ+ media in Ireland, you can help from as little as €1.99 per month. Support Ireland’s free, independent LGBTQ+ media.

0 comments. Please sign in to comment.