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Tennessee bill would pose criminal penalties for performing drag shows in front of kids

Second offense would be a felony under proposed law

RuPaul, Drag Queen
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Drag show performances where children are allowed to attend could soon become criminalized in Tennessee.

Under SB 0003 sponsored by state Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, anyone who “engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property or in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult” could be charged with a felony.

If passed, SB 0003 would require any private establishment hosting a show involving drag performers to require patrons to show ID proving they are 18 years old or older before being admitted to the event, according to The Tennessean

The measure would make any first offense a misdemeanor, while a second or subsequent offense would be a felony punishable by up to six years in prison.

Announcing the legislation on Facebook, Johnson wrote that the bill’s language is similar to current state law which “prohibits strip clubs from admitting children.”

The proposal is expected to be taken up in January, when the 113th Tennessee General Assembly convenes its legislative session.

If passed, the legislation would take effect in July 2023.

Lawmakers in Tennessee have shown a willingness to push back against so-called “family friendly” drag shows, including the Jackson Pride drag show that was scheduled for September in the city of Jackson.

After several weeks of controversy, event organizers met with local lawmakers and eventually agreed to move the event indoors and limit participants to ages 18 and older.

Last month, Conservative Christians of Tennessee highlighted what it described as the “troubling” proliferation of drag shows allowing minors to attend and pointed to another drag event in Chattanooga, where a child reportedly touched the groin of what some initially said was a man dressed as a woman.

The performer was later identified as a biological woman who performs as a princess at parties.

Shawn Graham, director of Conservative Christians of Tennessee, told The Christian Post he believes SB 0003 is in line with the will of most Tennesseans who “do not want this type of sexualized behavior in front of their children.”

“Every time these events come rolling into a new town, we hear that people do not want these outsiders pushing this debauchery and these extremely wicked agendas in their neighborhood,” said Graham.

“In order to enforce decency and protect communities, SB 0003 would add the clarity that existing cabaret laws lack.”

Graham also voiced concern for a potentially violent response from “radical activists” if the legislation is passed.

“We are watching carefully to see if they react in similar fashion to how they did when Roe v. Wade was overturned,” he said. “The hateful rhetoric and dozens of incidents of vandalism and arson have unfortunately become the normal reaction for the enemies of God’s truth.”

Graham said Christians should not only be praying for continued courage on behalf of Tennessee’s lawmakers, but also for boldness to speak out against such events.

“We know there are many people in Tennessee who are afraid they will suffer job loss or other marginalization if they speak out against the very powerful 'Alphabet army,'” he said.

“We hope that every legislative victory strengthens the people of God to boldly speak for truth even in the face of oppression.”

In September, Tennessee Tech University faced criticism over an on-campus drag show that allegedly mocked Christianity and exposed children to explicit activity. 

The school’s president subsequently canceled two similar upcoming shows, saying he was “disturbed and dismayed."

The response came after a video posted to social media showed a drag performer dancing suggestively to the song “Take Me to Church” by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier and making the sign of the cross.

The drag show, which was held at the on-campus Backdoor Playhouse in August and sponsored by the group Upper Cumberland Pride, “had little kids handing cash to the drag queen who was performing a dance clearly meant to mock Christians,” anti-human-trafficking advocate Landon Starbuck said on Twitter.

“Every parent who pays to send their kids to @tennesseetech deserves to know that this is what they’re allowing on campus,” she added.

Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ian.giatti@christianpost.com

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