NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill that would ban drag shows in Tennessee on public property and for those under 18 has advanced in the Tennessee legislature.
That's despite the bill not containing the words "drag show."
The Tennessee House Criminal Justice Subcommittee passed the bill on Tuesday. The bill will now advance to the House Criminal Justice Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, (R-Franklin), brought forward the legislation in late 2022 in conjunction with his bill that would limit gender-care surgeries for anyone under 18.
Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson, sponsored the bill in the House.
This is a common-sense child safety bill,' Rep. Todd said. 'There's confusion in the law of what performances are covered. This clarifies what is crossing the line that is harmful to minors.
The bill defines "adult cabaret entertainment" that is "harmful to minors" as performances that feature
It also defines a "performance" as anything that takes place within an adult establishment, regardless of whether there's a cover charge or it's free.
Opponents of the bill say its definitions are too broad.
Senator Johnson told us last November that the Tennessee General Assembly received several videos of drag performances where kids were present, including the one that went viral right here in Chattanooga.
“I am familiar with the instance that you’re referring to there,' Sen. Johnson told us. And again, those all kind of led me to pursue this legislation to make sure that our laws are consistent," says Senator Johnson. "We are not going to expose our children to this type of inappropriate, sexually explicit performances.”
But the drag performance community says they already take extra steps to ensure children’s mental and physical safety.
At Tuesday's hearing, bill opponent Steve Ramo read a letter from a teenager about the proposed bill, which said
"I feel so dehumanized. It's like step by step they are trying erase visibility and I fear for the day we will all end up being illegal... or worse."
Some Tennessee lawmakers also voiced their concerns, saying this bill could apply to performances from artists like Harry Styles or Broadway shows like Chicago or Hairspray in large venues across the state.
Gloria Johnson, (D-Knoxville), said the bill had unintended consequences. She questioned how it would affect the community and that it was directed "at hate." She further said this bill would be duplicated obscenity laws.
"Is it just harmful to children that they aren't wearing clothes aligned to their sex?" Johnson asked. "Would you consider men in tights to fall under this? I am curious as to why dancing. There's nothing sexual in nature. I have been to drag shows. I haven't seen what people are saying are happening. How many drag shows have you been too? People have more clothes on than in wrestling."
As this bill continues to make its way through the Tennessee General Assembly, depend on us to keep you posted.