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Hearings begin in federal court in lawsuit over Tennessee's anti-drag bill

The bill effectively bans public drag shows across Tennessee, and a temporary restraining order was issued against it.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The final hearings to determine whether Tennessee’s drag ban will be implemented began in federal court on May 22.

The case, Friends of George’s v Shelby County DA Steve Mulroy, will determine whether the legislation passed in the 113th General Assembly that restricts or bans drag performances in spaces where minors can view them will be barred by a formal injunction. 

The drag ban received a temporary restraining order last month. On May 16, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker extended the order to expire at the end of June 6. The judge also set a deadline of May 26 for both parties to submit their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. 

Most of Monday’s discussion centered on definitions and distinctions inside the legislation.

The defense argued the bill does not infringe on Friends of George’s ability to perform. They told the court it would merely enact rules to check the ages of those who are attending drag shows—and bar all “non-adults.”

They referred to adult-only zones, which the state argued would keep minors from viewing drag shows.

But Brice Timmons, who represents Friends of George’s, told Action News 5, WBIR's sister station in Memphis, that the original legislation did not include that language and the defense was interpreting something that was not intended.

“That rule is nowhere in the bill that was passed in the legislature,” Timmons said. “The state can’t start putting ideas that aren’t in the original legislation. That’s not how it works.”

Timmons argued that to interpret the law in this way infringes on the drag performers' first amendment right to free speech and that the state's intention is to limit the scope of Friends of Georg’s shows to dark rooms and bars.

The initial thoughts from the plaintiff were that May 22 would be the only day of hearings, but the judge ordered a recess until Tuesday after several hours of questioning.

The court will reconvene at the Odell Horton Federal Building at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

According to Timmons, the judge has expressed his desire to announce a final decision in the case by Friday, June 2, which is also the first day of Midsouth Pride.

This story was originally reported by Action News 5 in Memphis.

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