Tennessee Bans Public Drag Shows, Trans Youth Health Care

Tennessee Bans Public Drag Shows, Trans Youth Health Care

Tennessee has become the first state to enact discriminatory legislation criminalizing drag and the eighth to ban gender-affirming health care for trans youth.

On Thursday, March 2, Republican Governor Bill Lee signed Senate Bill 3 into law, which expands the state's preexisting restrictions on "adult-oriented businesses" by adding "adult cabaret performances" to the list. According to The Hill, the drag ban applies to any performance that happens in front of children or within 1000 feet of schools, public parks or churches by charging first-time violators with a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in a $2500 fine and up to a year in prison. Repeat violations will carry a sentence of up to six years as a Class E felony.

As LGBTQ+ activists and civil rights organizations argue, this type of legislation — which several other states are also contemplating — can be used to potentially punish trans and gender nonconforming people. It goes into effect April 1.

Lee's approval of the bill also comes a few days after Redditors found a highschool yearbook photo from 1977 where the governor is dressed in drag. The resurfaced picture has led to accusations of hypocrisy, though Lee's office said called it a "lighthearted school tradition" that was being "conflated" with the subject of the bill in a statement to the Daily Beast.

In addition to the drag ban, CBS News reports that Lee also signed Senate Bill 1, which prevents doctors for providing trans minors with gender-affirming healthcare. This includes therapies and treatments like puberty blockers and hormones, which have been endorsed by experts by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association. However, doctors will still be able to provide care to those who've been receiving these treatments before the ban goes into effect on July 1. Granted, the law also stipulates that all gender-affirming care for trans youth must end by March 31, 2024.

“We will not allow this dangerous law to stand. Certain politicians and Governor Lee have made no secret of their intent to discriminate against youth who are transgender or their willful ignorance about the life-saving health care they seek to ban," the ACLU said in statement about its intent to challenge the legislation in court.

"Instead, they’ve chosen fearmongering, misrepresentations, intimidation and extremist politics over the rights of families and the lives of transgender youth in Tennessee," the civil rights organization said before adding, "We want transgender youth to know they are not alone and this fight is not over.”

Lee's approval of Senate Bill 1 comes one day after Republican Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi signed a similar proposal into law, meaning eight states have now placed restrictions on gender-affirming healthcare. All of this follows ongoing right-wing efforts to target the LGBTQ+ community, many of which focus on trans youth, who've already been barred from school sports bans in 18 states and using bathrooms that match their gender identity in Oklahoma.

Photo via Getty / Niklas Hallen / AFP