Tennessee has become the first state in the nation to ban drag shows after Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill into law on Thursday.
“Adult cabaret performance,” including “male and female impersonators,” will be banned from public property and limited to age-restricted venues, the bill stated.
Also on Thursday, Lee signed into law a total ban on gender-affirming health care for transgender children, similar to actions taken by conservative governors in several other states.
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The drag-related bill, Senate Bill 3, bans “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors,” as defined in Tennessee’s obscenity law.
The law will take effect on July 1.
Despite the law’s language, some Republicans have said it would not broadly impact drag shows. It would apply only to those performances with material that falls under the state’s existing obscenity laws and under a strict obscenity test defined by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Todd, who filed the legislation, has called drag shows “child abuse.”
Democrats have criticized the bill and the motivation of its supporters, pointing out that minors are already protected from “obscene” material under Tennessee law.
It’s unclear how the law will be enforced.
Violations of the law are a Class A misdemeanor on first offense and a Class E felony on second or subsequent offenses.
Health care outlawed
The health law Lee signed, Senate Bill 1, prohibits doctors from providing gender-affirming care to anyone under the age of 18, including prescribing puberty blockers and hormones.
The legislation spells out exceptions, including allowing doctors to perform these medical services if the patient’s care had begun prior to July 1, 2023 — which is when the ban is proposed to go into effect.
The bill then states that care must end by March 31, 2024.
Surgeries, which were rare in Tennessee, are also banned.
Across the United States, state lawmakers have introduced legislation attacking gender-affirming medical care for young people, even as such services have been available in the U.S. for more than a decade and are endorsed by major medical associations.
Major U.S. medical associations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, support gender transition health care as evidence-based medicine.
The American Civil Liberties Union plans to sue.
“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 American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Lambda Legal said in a joint statement Thursday.
“Instead, they’ve chosen fear mongering, misrepresentations, intimidation and extremist politics over the rights of families and the lives of transgender youth in Tennessee. We are dedicated to overturning this unconstitutional law and are confident the state will find itself completely incapable of defending it in court,” the statement said. “We want transgender youth to know they are not alone and this fight is not over.”
Other states have similar bans
Similar bills have advanced in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.
In Utah, the Republican governor recently signed a transgender medical ban into law.
Mississippi’s bill banning surgeries, hormone therapies, and puberty blockers for minors was signed into law on Tuesday. Meanwhile, a federal judge who blocked Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for minors is now considering whether to strike down the law as unconstitutional.
A similar ban in Alabama has also been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.
As of June, over a dozen states were implementing or considering such laws, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Similar bans are making their way through legislatures or have recently passed in Utah, South Dakota and Iowa.