Trump-Appointed Judge Deems Tennessee Drag Show Law Unconstitutional

A federal judge found a Tennessee statute restricting drag performances unconstitutional.

According to the order issued late Friday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, who former President Donald Trump chose, the statute is “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” and encourages “discriminatory enforcement.”

“There is no doubt that the First Amendment does not protect obscenity.” “However, there is a distinction between material that is ‘obscene’ in common parlance and material that is ‘obscene’ under the law,” Parker explained.

“Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that s*xually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” he explained.

Adult cabaret performances on public property or anywhere minors might be present would have been prohibited under the statute. Performers who violated the law risked being punished with a misdemeanor or a felony if they did it again.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed the act in early March, alongside another law prohibiting minors from receiving gender-affirming care, despite widespread public opposition and threats from civil rights organizations, which pledged to sue the state and subsequently did.

Parker temporarily halted Tennessee’s anti-drug law in April, just hours before it was set to go into force. The initial ruling was based on a complaint filed by Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBTQ+ theater organization, alleging that state prohibitions on drag shows violate the First Amendment.

Trump-Appointed Judge Deems Tennessee Drag Show Law Unconstitutional

Parker offered the example of a female performer donning an Elvis Presley outfit and impersonating the renowned musician in his recent judgment, who may face prosecution under the drag statute since they would be considered a “male impersonator.”

Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBTQ+ theatrical company, filed a March complaint claiming that the rule would harm their ability to create “drag-centric performances, comedy sketches, and plays” with no age limitations.

“This victory represents a triumph over hatred,” the theatrical group said Saturday, adding that the court upheld their artists’ First Amendment rights.

“Like the countless battles the LGBTQ+ community has faced over the last several decades, our collective success depends on everyone speaking out and standing up to bigotry,” the group wrote.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, a Republican and one of the law’s key proponents, expressed disappointment with the decision.

“Sadly, this ruling is a victory for those who support exposing children to sexual entertainment,” Johnson said, hoping the state attorney general will appeal the “perplexing ruling.”

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Initially, Lee, Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, and Shelby County District Attorney General Steven Mulroy were named defendants in the complaint.

However, the plaintiffs later decided to fire the governor and his top legal adviser, albeit Skrmetti continued to represent Mulroy in this case.

A spokesman representing Skrmetti and Mulroy did not immediately reply to calls for comment on Parker’s decision on Saturday.

Tennessee’s Republican-dominated legislature passed the anti-drag bill earlier this year, with numerous GOP legislators citing drag shows in their hometowns as reasons why such performances should not be held publicly or where children could witness them.

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However, the word “drag” does not occur in the statute. Instead, lawmakers amended the definition of ad*lt cabaret to include “ad*lt-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.” In addition, “male or female impersonators” were categorized as a type of ad*lt lounge, similar to strippers or topless dancers.

The governor swiftly signed the statute, set to go into force on April 1. However, the law has never been enforced to date.

Parker also mentioned how the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Chris Todd, had previously led a campaign to stop a drag show in his area before submitting the statement.

Todd later admitted that he had not seen the performance, but he took legal action to stop it, and the event was moved indoors with an age restriction.

This was one of the numerous reasons Parker believed the anti-drag law was “geared toward placing prospective blocks on drag shows — regardless of their potential harm to minors.”

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