DA Mulroy says he doubts any drag shows in Shelby County will violate Tennessee’s new drag bill

Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 7:39 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - With the Mid-South’s largest pride event just a few months away, many have questions surrounding drag shows in the Volunteer State. Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, however, says not to worry.

Tennessee is making national headlines after passing a first-of-its-kind drag bill that could bring criminal charges against some drag performers.

On Thursday, Governor Bill Lee signed into law the bill that will ban “adult cabaret performances” where children are present.

By the end of the month, establishments that put on drag performances may have to make some changes to their shows, and there seem to be more questions than answers.

The bill puts limits on adult cabaret performers deemed by the state to be inappropriate for children, like topless dancers, strippers, and now male or female impersonators who provide entertainment, although the words “drag show” are not explicitly stated.

Action News 5 previously interviewed leaders of the Orpheum Theater Group, who said the bill could affect some Broadway performances where male characters are played by female actors, and vice versa.

“There’s just too much confusion. There’s too much of a gray area,” said Jerred Price, producer of what’s believed to be the first drag show brunch on Beale Street.

It’s held every other Sunday at the Hard Rock Cafe.

”It was met with great reception. Packed houses of citizens that are visiting Memphis and citizens who live Downtown. They all love it, but it’s not my decision on whether or not it’s going to continue, it’s going to be corporate,” said Price.

The bill bans what it defines as “adult cabaret” from taking place on public property or any place where minors may be present, including Hard Rock Cafe. Price says one solution that would allow the drag brunch to continue would be to make the brunch for only 18 and older patrons.

Many opponents of the bill question where the line is drawn concerning what is considered obscene and what isn’t.

Price said, “The drag community overall is a very professional community, if they tell you, ‘Hey, it’s kid-friendly,’ it’s going to be no more risqué than a Hooters waitress or a cheerleader at a Dallas Cowboys game.”

In a statement sent to Action News 5 on Friday, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said that the law is unnecessary, and added that he doesn’t think it will affect any drag show currently underway in Shelby County.

The new law goes into effect on April 1, two full months before the start of Pride month.

Mid-South Pride puts on the Mid-South’s largest pride event. Organizers say they have spoken to their attorneys and they were advised not to cancel their event.

“We put on an event that is actually geared toward family, you know, family members and people of all ages, so we are already strict with our performers. We’re already requiring them to get everything approved ahead of time, nothing will be of a prude nature,” said Vanessa Rodley with Mid-South Pride.

As for the drag show at the Hard Rock, Price says the show will go on this Sunday. He has not yet heard from Hard Rock officials on whether or not they will continue allowing the drag brunch.

We reached out to the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to ask how they plan to enforce the bill, but we have not heard back.

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