Tennessee may ban drag shows and other adult entertainment, with a bill awaiting passage by the state’s legislature.
On Tuesday, the Tennessee House Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved a bill that would ban rave dancers, exotic dancers and strippers in public places and among people under the age of 18, FOX 17 Nashville reported. It will now advance to the House Criminal Justice Committee.
“This is a child-safe bill that makes common sense,” said Rep. Kris Todd, a Republican who supports HB. 9, according to the report.
The bill seeks to ban “adult cabaret entertainment” that is “harmful to minors,” including “male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers, who provide entertainment that appeals to obscenity.”
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Todd added: “There is confusion in the law about what performances are covered. This clarifies crossing the line that is harmful to minors.”
While the bill effectively bans drag shows, it doesn’t specifically use the term.
Republicans in the state have argued that drag shows lead to the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.
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Republican Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson introduced the legislation in late 2022, with his own bill limiting gender-based care surgery for people under 18.
“We’re not going to expose our kids to this inappropriate, explicit show,” Senator Johnson told radio in November 2022, at a time when drag shows involving children were growing in popularity.
Johnson said seeing the shows pop up in Chattanooga and elsewhere prompted him to “push through this legislation to make sure our laws are consistent,” WZTV reported.
Critics of the bill say its vagueness could lead to unintended consequences.
Gloria Johnson, the Democratic state representative for the Knoxville area, said the bill was aimed at “hate” and said it could inadvertently prevent prostitutes like Harry Styles from being so flamboyant and colorful. The well-dressed big-name stars perform in the state.
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“I’m curious as to why there’s dancing, but these things are not sexual in nature,” Rep. Johnson said during a committee hearing on Jan. 31. “I don’t know if you’ve been to a drag show, I have. I’ve seen some things in the community, but I don’t see what people say is happening. I’m curious how many drag shows you’ve been to.”
She continued: “I’m also thinking about why we’re targeting this because I’m thinking about a place where men wear tights, like WWE wrestling, where at least a third of the audience is kids, and they do things like Handcuffing a pair to a rail and shocking their testicles. I think that’s kinda bad. But somehow someone dressing up and dancing is the problem? Because I can tell you that drag show people usually wear more clothes than wrestlers. “
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Her comments were directed at Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, a former WWE wrestler who goes by the nickname Kane.
Republican Jacobs spent more than 20 years in WWE after making his debut in 1992.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.