Federal judge tosses Tennessee’s controversial anti-drag law, declares it unconstitutional

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Micaela A Watts

Memphis Commercial Appeal

In a significant win for LGBTQ advocates, a federal judge has tossed out Tennessee’s controversial law restricting drag performances, after hearings in which the law’s necessity and broad language were questioned.

Judge Thomas Parker issued his ruling just after midnight Friday, writing that, "the Court finds that — despiteTennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of children — the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL (sic) restriction on the freedom of speech."

The bill restricting "male and female impersonators" from performing in public spaces was signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee at the start of March. The bill was one of several to come out of the 2023 legislative session that was said to target LGBTQ Tennesseans.

By late March, a Memphis-based theater group, Friends of George’s filed suit against the state. The group wrote on its website in March the bill, imperils the lives of "drag performers and seeks to oppress queer culture state-wide."

Defense attorneys for the state focused on why the law was necessary to protect any minors that may be exposed to indecency. But, Parker questioned the necessity of the bill, noting Tennessee already had thorough laws on the books that banned obscenity.

Parker’s decision comes hours before Mid-South Pride hosts the yearly Pride festival in Memphis and the Franklin Pride Festival begins in Middle Tennessee.

This story will be updated.

Micaela Watts is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal, covering issues tied to education, access, and equity. She can be reached at micaela.watts.

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