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Right wing government in Tennessee attempts to criminalise drag

The GOP has felt the sting as they sit neck-and-neck with Democrats in the midterms. But blue victories haven’t stopped Republicans from introducing far-right state legislature.

This week, Tennessee Republicans introduced two new bills that would ban gender-affirming care for children, along with public drag performances state-wide.

Sponsored by Republicans Ken Yager and Ferrell Haile, ‘Senate Bill 1’ – also titled the ‘Protecting Children From Gender Mutilation Act’ – states that any medical procedures that ‘alter a minor’s hormonal balance, remove a minor’s sex organs or otherwise change a minor’s physical appearance are harmful’ when intended to allow the minor to ‘identify with…a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex’.

Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment – particularly efforts to paint trans individuals as dangerous groomers – was a large part of Republican midterm marketing.

But despite failing to beat the Democrats, who now hold an equal 48 seats in the Senate, Tennessee lawmakers are heightening attempts to criminalise the state’s LGBTQ+ population.

Alongside Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 3 was also introduced on Wednesday. If passed, the bill would make performing drag in public – where children may be able to see it – a criminal offence.

The details of Senate Bill 3 outline that any performer who ‘appeals to prurient (sexual) interests’ will be prohibited from performing on public property or in a place where minors can witness it.

This includes topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, and male or female impersonators.

LGBTQ+ activists have responded with outrage to the new proposals.

Sarah Warbelow, Human Rights Campaign legal director, outlined the dangerous consequences of Senate Bill 3, accusing legislators of blanketing drag beneath vague and homophobic hatred.

‘[SB 3] demonstrates a failure to understand the fact that drag performances have taken place for decades as a form of entertainment that varies widely between audiences’ Warbelow said.

‘A drag performance at a bar for adults is very different from a drag story hour at a library; the first is theatrical entertainment and creative validation, while the second is about diversity and inclusion’.

Warbelow’s comments highlight the importance of drag to queer communities, as well as its power as an educational tool, helping others outside of the LGBTQ+ population to listen and learn.

The bill’s focus on children is also unfounded, given the ways drag can help young people – particularly those going unpicking their own sexual identity – find their voice and seek comfort in others.

‘It is evident that the legislation aims to mislead the public and intimidate LGBTQ+ people by perpetuating false, offensive narratives’ Warbelow continued.

Those violating the bill would face a misdemeanour charge on the first offence, and up to 6 years in prison for subsequent offences.

GOP legislators in Tennessee are known for proposing aggressive anti-trans and LGBTQ+ legislation.

Last year, a bill was passed that allows students, parents or school employees to sue for ‘psychological, emotional and physical harm’ if a school allows transgender students to use a bathroom or locker room marked for a gender opposite of their birth sex.

This legislative oppression of trans and LGTBQ+ youth is significantly damaging to both their mental and physical health. If Senate Bills 1 and 3 are passed, LGBTQ+ people in Tennessee will be subject to more false, offensive narratives that irrevocably harm their position in US society.

Transgender teens are already at a much higher risk of mental health struggles than their cis-gender peers. A study by researchers at the University of Ottawa found that trans adolescents are 7.6 times more likely to attempt suicide than cis-gender teens.

By proposing these new anti-LGBTQ+ bills, the Tennessee GOP is encouraging further stigma and public moral panic.

Demonising drag sends a dangerous message about queer identity and trans representation, the consequences of which would be far more harmful than the ostensible threat GOP lawmakers claim drag poses to young children.


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