Tennessee’s Republican Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson last Wednesday introduced Senate Bill 3, which would make it an offense for “adult cabaret performers” to hold shows on public property or at any location where it could be viewed by minors.
The bill defines these performances as “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, and male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.”
Effectively, the bill seeks to keep sexual performances away from kids.
Any performer violating the potential law would face a class A misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of about a year in prison and a $2,500 fine. Repeat offenders would face a class E felony, punishable by up to six years behind bars and a $3,000 fine.
“This bill is about protecting children,” Sen. Johnson told The Daily Wire. “It is dangerous to expose children to inappropriate sexually suggestive drag shows. Early exposure to sexually explicit content can have harmful effects on children’s developing brains. I am trying to prevent that with this bill.”
The measure seems to be, in part, a reaction to footage of sexualized, so-called “family friendly” drag queen events across the nation. In one example, a Dallas gay bar hosted a “Drag the Kids to Pride” event over the summer where drag queens were taking dollar bills from children, as you might see a stripper do. A sign at the show also read, “It’s not gonna lick itself!”
Video out of a bar in Florida over the summer showed sexualized drag queens entertaining young children, too. In one instance, a young girl is seen walking hand-in-hand with a drag queen with exposed breasts and a thong with dollar bills hanging out.
And footage from an outdoor pride event in Columbia, South Carolina, shows a drag queen performing with a young girl in his arms on stage, showing the girl how to take dollar bill tips from a rowdy crowd.
Critics claim the bill potentially infringes on the First Amendment rights of drag queens and view the legislation as targeting the LGBT community.
Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow told the Advocate that SB3 amounts to intimidation of LGBTQ+ people and “perpetuates false, offensive narratives.”
“A drag performance at a bar for adults is very different from a drag story hour at a library; the first is theatrical entertainment and creative validation, while the second is about diversity and inclusion,” Warbelow said, seemingly suggesting kids are already effectively banned from sexualized drag show performances.
“This proposal as written should not impact drag story hours and similar events because they are not ‘prurient’ performances, but it is evident that the legislation aims to mislead the public and intimidate LGBTQ+ people by perpetuating false, offensive narratives,” the director added.
Notably, Tennessee Republicans have also introduced Senate Bill 1, the Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act, which would prohibit doctors from prescribing puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and performing gender-related surgeries on minors for the purpose of medical transition.
SB3 is set to be debated during the next legislative session, which begins on January 10, and is likely to pass since Republicans hold super-majorities in both legislative chambers.