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Bill requiring paid drag performers to get permits before they perform fails in Senate committee

The bill also would not have allowed people under 18 years old to attend shows featuring "adult cabaret entertainment," which could include drag performances.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — UPDATE (March 21): A bill that would have required paid drag performers to get a permit before they can take the stage, and would specifically prevent minors from attending their shows, failed in a Senate committee on Tuesday. It had previously passed the House.

Senator Mark Pody made a motion on the bill, but it did not get a second and so failed.


PREVIOUS: A bill that would require paid drag performers to get a permit before they can take the stage, and would specifically prevent minors from attending their shows, passed the Tennessee House of Representatives on March 6.

The bill follows another bill that was signed into law on March 3, which effectively banned some types of drag performances in public spaces. HB 0030 shares similar language as that bill, changing the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee's law to mean "adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors."

It also says that "male or female impersonators" would fall under "adult cabaret," alongside topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers.

The definition of "harmful to minors" in the state code below.

"Harmful to minors” means that quality of any description or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual excitement, sexual conduct, excess violence or sadomasochistic abuse when the matter or performance:

  1. Would be found by the average person applying contemporary community standards to appeal predominantly to the prurient, shameful or morbid interests of minors;
  2. Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and
  3. Taken as whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific values for minors;

"I just want to point our attention to some hypocrisy that's happening in this building right now. So, we just voted not to have any regulation or safety precaution around the Second Amendment, but now we have a bill to regulate drag shows," said Representative Justin Jones (D - Nashville). "Drag shows are not a threat to our community. Mass shootings are ... I just think it's absurd that we're so threatened by drag shows, but we don't take seriously the real threats to our community."

He also called it an attack on the LGBTQ community. Organizers at Knox Pride previously called drag shows a "huge part of celebrating who we are and our community," and for many people, drag performances are seen as an art form for self-expression.

Under the bill, any paid performer of "adult cabaret entertainment" would need to get a valid permit from their adult-oriented establishment board before they can perform.

"Is the Constitution not their permit?" said Rep. Jones. "This bill is nothing more than hate in drag ... and it is shameful."

The bill also says businesses could not allow a person younger than 18 years old to attend a performance that would feature drag performers or any kind of "adult cabaret entertainment."

The bill was introduced by Representative Clay Doggett (R - Pulaski). On the House floor, he said he has not attended drag shows and did not respond when asked if he saw photos of Gov. Bill Lee that appeared to show him dressed in drag during his high school years.

Rep. Doggett said the bill is meant to protect children from adult cabaret shows. He said a person not performing in a minor "harmful to minors" would not need a permit.

The bill passed the House by a 72-23 vote. However, it failed in a Senate committee.

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