Non-profit files federal lawsuit against Tenn. drag bill

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 6:53 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A lawsuit was filed against the state of Tennessee over the passing of a first-of-its-kind drag bill that could bring criminal charges against some drag performers.

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

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 in the legislation, drag performers see it as an attack.

“This inhibits our ability and free speech to present our art form,” said Micah Winter-Cole, who performs with the group Friends of George’s who filed the lawsuit.

Friends of George’s is a Memphis non-profit that performs campy, often comedic, and fully self-produced plays and skits in order to raise money for local non-profits that help the LGBTQ+ community.

“This bill is a drastic misrepresentation of what we do and what we stand for,” Winter-Cole said.

A portion of the federal lawsuit states: “Given that Plaintiff cannot identify what conduct is covered by this law or what locations are included in the prohibition, they are reasonably concerned that the six performances of their all-ages drag show could subject them to felony charges.”

“If they limit our right to free speech or free expression, what’s to stop them from continuing down the line?” Winter-Cole questioned.

The law is set to go into effect on April 1. Brice Timmons, the attorney representing Friends of George’s, told Action News 5 they will appear in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on Thursday to request an injunction.

Other Memphis drag performers say they won’t be complying, regardless.

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