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Tennessee ban on drag shows for kids ruled unconstitutional by judge

The judge said in his decision that a female Elvis Presley impersonator could be punished under the law because the performer would be considered a "male impersonator."

Published: June 4, 2023 8:31am

Tennessee's law banning drag shows from being performed in public or in places where children are present is unconstitutional, according to a ruling from U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.

The state law is "unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad" and it encouraged "discriminatory enforcement," the judge wrote in the ruling late Friday, according to The Associated Press.

"There is no question that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. But there is a difference between material that is 'obscene' in the vernacular, and material that is 'obscene' under the law," Parker also wrote. "Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech."

The law would have prohibited adult cabaret performances on public property or anywhere minors could be present. Performers who violated the law faced a misdemeanor or, if it was a repeat offense, a felony charge.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed the ban into law in March. GOP Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, the bill's sponsor, said at the time that the legislation "gives confidence to parents that they can take their kids to a public or private show and will not be blindsided by a sexualized performance."

Parker said in his decision that a female Elvis Presley impersonator could be punished under the law because the performer would be considered a "male impersonator."

The lawsuit against the legislation was filed by the Memphis-based LGBTQ+ theater company Friends of George's, which argued that they were negatively impacted by the law because they produce "drag-centric performances" without age restrictions.

The theater group celebrated the judge's decision as a "triumph over hate."

State Sen. Johnson said after the ruling: "Sadly, this ruling is a victory for those who support exposing children to sexual entertainment."

Madeleine Hubbard is an international correspondent for Just the News. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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