Federal judge rules Tennessee drag law unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled that a first-in-the-nation Tennessee law strictly limiting drag shows in public or in places where children could be present is unconstitutional.

In his late Friday decision, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker wrote that the law was “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad,” and infringed upon the First Amendment right of drag performers.

The ruling comes as LGBTQ+ rights, particularly trans rights, have become a major conservative battleground and talking point in the leadup to the 2024 election. At least 26 bills have been introduced nationwide this year aiming to limit drag performances.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law in March criminalizing “adult cabaret entertainment” taking place in public or in the presence of minors. Friends of George’s, an LGBTQ+ theater group based in Memphis, sued over the law, claiming that it violated First Amendment rights.

Drag performer, Bella Duballe, backstage getting ready for the Easter Drag Brunch.


The Drag Brunch That Tennessee Wants to Ban, in 19 Photos

Parker, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, at the time agreed that the law was “vague and “overly-broad,” and temporarily blocked the law.

“The AEA can criminalize — or at minimum chill — the expressive conduct of those who wish to impersonate a gender that is different from the one with which they were born in Shelby County,” Parker wrote in his 70-page ruling. “Such speech is protected by the First Amendment.”

The decision also stated that laws infringing on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech must be “narrow and well-defined,” but the AEA is “neither,” the judge wrote.

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