On Friday, a federal judge temporarily blocked Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation law setting hard limits at a drag show hours before it was set to take effect, siding with a group that filed a lawsuit alleging the statute violates the First Amendment.
The decision comes after Memphis-based LGBTQ+ theater company Friends of George filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy and the state.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker issued the temporary injunction after hearing arguments from both sides on Thursday.
Parker wrote that the state failed to make a convincing case as to why Tennessee needed the new law, adding that the court also agreed that the statute was likely vague and overbroad.
The word “drag” does not appear in the new law, which instead changed the definition of cabaret for adults in Tennessee to mean “adult-oriented performances that harm minors.”
Moreover, the “male or female impersonator” is now classified as a form of adult cabaret, similar to strippers and topless dancers, go-go and exotic dancers.
The law prohibited cabaret performances for adults in public places or any place where minors might be present. Performers who break the law risk being charged with an administrative or felony for repeat offenses.
“The law prohibits a dancer in a crop top and miniskirt from dancing where minors may see it, but does not prohibit an identically dressed Tennessee Titans cheerleader from performing the exact same dance in front of children,” the original complaint states. .
Parker also listed a concern in line with the group’s argument that the law was overbroad, questioning the location specifications for a cabaret entertainment venue that could be viewed by minors.
“Does a citizen’s private residence count? How about camping in a national park?” Parker wrote. “After all, the broad language of the Statute is at odds with the strict limitations of the First Amendment.”
The complaint also describes an attempt last year to block a drag show at a park in Jackson, west of Nashville, as part of the Pride festival. A lawsuit filed by Republican state Rep. Chris Todd and Republican state Sen. Ed Jackson sought to prevent the show, forcing organizers to reach an agreement to hold the event indoors with age restrictions.
“Following the state courts’ abuse of Jackson Pride’s First Amendment rights, Rep. Todd was ‘asked to draft legislation that would make it much clearer’ that drag shows in front of children are a violation of Tennessee law,” it said. in the complaint.
Parker cited Todd’s actions in his decision Friday, saying the state attorney general’s office was unable to provide a clear answer about the new law’s goals given Tennessee’s current obscenity laws.
During Thursday’s hearing, Mulroy told the judge he did not object to the temporary restraining order.
“There has been a lot of community concern and confusion about the law,” Mulroy said in a statement to The Associated Press. “This will allow the court to clarify the scope, application and constitutionality of the statute. It is important to understand the scope of this law so that it does not adversely affect constitutionally protected speech.”
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The Tennessee law is the second major LGBTQ+ proposal passed by state lawmakers this year. Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed GOP-backed legislation that would ban most gender-affirming benefits.
Lee faced criticism for passing legislation banning drag shows, especially after a 1977 photo of him as a high school student dressed in women’s clothing surfaced.
Lee called the comparison of the two issues “ridiculous.” When asked about specific examples of inappropriate drag shows being performed in front of children, Lee did not cite any, but said he was concerned about protecting children.