Sunday, 04 June 2023 01:22 GMT

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Tennessee Law Restricting Drag Shows

(MENAFN) A federal judge has temporarily blocked Tennessee's first-in-the-nation law placing strict limits on drag shows just hours before it was set to go into effect. The judge sided with a group that filed a lawsuit against Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy and the state, claiming that the statute violates the First Amendment. Memphis-based Friends of George's, an LGBTQ+ theater company, filed the lawsuit on Monday, and U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker issued a temporary injunction after hearing arguments on both sides on Thursday.

The law, which was set to go into effect, changed the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee to mean "adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors." Male or female impersonators are now classified as a form of adult cabaret, akin to strippers and topless, go-go, and exotic dancers. The law banned adult cabaret performances from public property or anywhere minors might be present. Performers who break the law risk being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony for a repeat offense.

However, Parker wrote that the state has failed to make a compelling argument as to why Tennessee needed the new law, adding that the court also agrees the statute is likely vague and overly broad. The word "drag" doesn't appear in the new law, and the complaint contends that the law prohibits a drag performer from dancing where minors might see it but does not prohibit a Tennessee Titans cheerleader wearing an identical outfit from performing the exact same dance in front of children.

Parker also listed concerns aligning with the group's argument that the law was overly broad, questioning the location specifications of a cabaret entertainment venue that might be viewed by a minor. The complaint also details the efforts last year to block a drag show at a park in Jackson, forcing organizers to reach a settlement to hold the event indoors with an age restriction.

During Thursday's hearing, Mulroy told the judge that he didn't object to a temporary restraining order. Mulroy said in a statement to The Associated Press that there has been much concern and confusion about the law from the community, and that the injunction will allow the court to clarify the scope, application, and constitutionality of the statute. A spokesperson for the attorney general's office did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Friday.

The federal judge's decision is a temporary relief for the LGBTQ+ community and supporters of drag shows in Tennessee. The case highlights the ongoing debate surrounding the freedom of expression and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. As the legal battle continues, it remains to be seen whether the state will make a compelling argument for the need for such a law or if the court will strike it down as unconstitutional.


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