Faith Monahan ’24
Several states with majority GOP legislatures have proposed laws prohibiting drag performances in public over the past week as part of a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures since the beginning of 2023. On March 2nd, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed into law Senate Bill 3, which would prohibit drag performances in public places or in view of minors. On March 2nd, Arizona’s Senate passed Senate Bill 1026, and Kentucky’s Senate passed its Senate Bill 115 on March 10th. These bills would have similar effects to the Tennessee law. The bills effectively define public drag performances as obscenity and prohibit the viewing or potential viewing of drag performances by individuals under 18. During the month of June, many cities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States celebrate pride month through performances and parades in public spaces. The Human Rights Campaign has tracked a total of 410 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, many of which affect transgender students or drag in public. According to the Washington Post, at least 14 states have introduced anti-drag legislation.
The new law amends Tennessee’s criminal code on adult-oriented performances by adding a new subdivision defining “adult cabaret performance” as an offense on public property or on property where the performance may be viewed by minors
The amendment includes “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration” in its definition of “adult cabaret performance” which includes drag performances. A violation of the legislation would be classified as a class A misdemeanor with jail time of up to 11 months and 29 days, a fine of up to $2,500, or both. A second or repeated offense would be classified as a Class E felony in the state carrying a fine of up to $3,000 or 1-6 years in prison. The bill will go into effect on July 1st, 2023.
The Kentucky Senate Bill 115 defines explicitly a “Drag Performance” as consisting of a person who “performs before an audience for entertainment while exhibiting a gender expression that is inconsistent with the biological sex formally recognized on the performer’s original birth certificate.” Gender expression must be a featured aspect of the performance. The bill also prohibits drag performances within 1,000 feet of buildings such as parks, places of worship, residences, schools, and playgrounds. It also includes a broader range of “adult-oriented businesses.” The bill will now be reviewed by Kentucky’s house of representatives.
Arizona’s SB 1026 bill prohibits the usage of any tax dollars by facilities or any usage of private money by cities, towns, or school districts to support a “drag show targeting minors.” The legislation would convict officers, agents, or employees of a class 1 misdemeanor if they fail to comply. The proposed bill has passed the state’s Senate and will be reviewed by the House.
An Anti-Drag Bill in South Dakota, however, recently failed to pass in its state senate after passing the house. The proposed bill was allegedly in response to a drag performance that occurred on the South Dakota State University campus hosted by the student Gender and Sexuality Alliance due to its advertisement as family-friendly, receiving criticism from Republican lawmakers.