Tennessee’s controversial first–in–the–nation law meant to restrict drag shows has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge, dealing a major blow to the legislation’s Republican supporters.
In a decision released late Friday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, appointed by former President Donald Trump, said the law was both “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” and encouraged “discriminatory enforcement.” He noted it would have banned adult cabaret performances from public property or anywhere minors were present. The law would have exposed performers to criminal prosecution and applied to male or female impersonators in the same way it would to strippers or topless dancers.
Friends of George’s, a Memphis–based LGBTQ+ theater company, challenged the law in March, saying it was unconstitutional and infringed upon their First Amendment rights. The group heralded Parker’s decision as “a triumph over hate” and praised it for affirming their rights as artists.
However, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, a Republican who was one of the law’s main sponsors, said he was “disappointed” by the ruling.
“Sadly, this ruling is a victory for those who support exposing children to sexual entertainment,” Johnson said, adding he hoped the state’s attorney general will appeal the ruling.
The drag law was the second major initiative targeting LGBTQ+ people passed by Tennessee lawmakers this year. Gov. Bill Lee also signed into law GOP–backed legislation banning most gender–affirming care, which is currently being challenged in court.
At the heart of the law was a fundamental disagreement between the LGBTQ+ community and Tennessee’s Republican–controlled legislature. The drag law’s supporters said it was necessary to bar drag shows from public or minor–filled areas, acting out of concern for children. By contrast, the theater group said it was a blatantly discriminatory measure that targeted LGBTQ+ people and their First Amendment rights.
With its ruling, the federal court has sided with the theater company, declaring Tennessee’s drag law unconstitutional and slamming the door on its enforcement.