ACLU of Tennessee Prepared to Fight Against New Laws Banning Public Drag Performances and Restrict Access to Gender-Affirming Care for Transgender Youth

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed two new laws recently that are angering the transgender community and drag performers across the state – resulting in a critical response from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee. The news comes just a few months before Pride festivities in the month of June.

The first law – HB9/SB3 – is a drag ban, which aims to prohibit drag performances (listed as ‘adult cabaret performances in the bill) in public or on public property and wherever minors might be present. Not following the new law will result in a misdemeanor first-time offense and a felony second offense. 

The second law – HB1/SB1 – aims to restrict and prohibit access to gender-affirming healthcare (including hormone treatments and surgeries) to minors and trans youths. The law passed in the House on a 77-16 vote, while the drag show ban passed in the House on a 74-19 vote. 

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While neither law will go into effect immediately, the drag show ban is set to go into effect on April 1, 2023, and the prohibition of gender-affirming care to minors will soon follow on July 1, 2023 – those who are currently receiving such care will lose that access in April 2024. Many TN residents are against the laws. 

Among the many speaking out is Stella Yarbrough, the legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee. In a recent statement, Yarbrough announced her displeasure with the drag ban, but made it ‘abundantly clear’ that the law isn’t making it illegal to perform in a drag, but rather banning ‘obscene performances.’ 

As for the HB1/SB1 law, the ACLU and Lambda Legal issued a joint response that condemned and opposed the new law. “We will not allow this dangerous law to stand,” they wrote – adding that Gov. Lee and other politicians are utilizing ‘fearmongering, misrepresentations, intimidation, and extremist politics.’ 

“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,” they continued in their statement. “All three organizations have promised legal action against SB 1.”

Tennessee Isn’t the First State With Such Laws Against Drag Performances and Trans People

While Tennessee is the first state to enact new laws against drag performances in 2023, they’re not the first to try and likely won’t be the only ones to succeed this year. In fact, there have already been 26 new bills related to drag show performances that have been introduced in 14 different states this year alone. 

Most of these bills either aim at prohibiting drag shows from public events, banning children from such performances, or making all hosts of drag shows register as ‘adult-oriented businesses.’ The rising number of such bills goes to show that many states are making them a top priority for GOP lawmakers.

Drag performers aren’t the only ones under attack. There have also been numerous bills – more than 59 so far – introduced in 21 different states aiming to limit or prohibit access to gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youths. Earlier in the year, the state of Utah passed a similar law to the one Tennessee passed recently — and more are likely to follow. 

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“These bills represented a coordinated effort to deny transgender people our freedom, our safety, and our dignity,” said Chase Strangio of the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Across the country, trans people and our families are gearing up to fight back and prevent every one of these bills from becoming law.”

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