KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Controversy is brewing over the age limit for a drag show scheduled at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville.
According to a statement from the theatre’s executive director, “there is a small but vocal number of community members” who oppose a performance of a show called “A Drag Queen Christmas” scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 22. A promoter is renting the theatre for the show, and tickets are sold out.
According to Betty Hancock, executive director of the Tennessee Theatre, an early copy of marketing materials provided by the promoter who is renting the theater for the show included the phrase “all ages,” but that was removed by the Tennessee Theatre staff.
The show description includes a parental guidance warning.
At Monday’s Knox County Commissioner’s Court meeting, some community members expressed concern that children are not banned from the performance.
Ken Peters, pastor of the Church at Planned Parenthood, said at the meeting that he plans to protest the event. Peters has also expressed his concern in several livestreams posted on his Facebook page.
“Kids have no business being at adult, stripper-like, sexually oriented entertainment. We should keep kids clean out of that,” Peters told WATE 6 during an interview after the commissioners meeting. “A parental advisory is not good enough. It should not be for all ages, if anything it shouldn’t even be for adults. It’s horrible for adults, but to then allow kids to come in is despicable.”
On Monday, State Representative Jason Zachary shared a video on Twitter voicing his opposition to the show. He voiced concern, also, over the fact the show was not restricted to those 18 and older. In the video, he claims to have reached out to Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti and District Attorney Charme Allen about the show.
“There is nothing right now on the books, there is nothing in code, allowing these shows to be shut down or action to be taken if people under 18 are admitted,” Zachary said.
Zachary said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs has received similar complaints.
A statement from the theatre shared that theatre managers are aware of a small group threatening to protest at the event.
“It is not the theatre’s job to tell a parent what is or isn’t appropriate. It is the parents’ job to make that decision,” Hancock said in an email to commissioners. “This could apply to Drag Queen Christmas, but I would argue it applies to many other events we’ve had at the Tennessee Theatre — none of which have had an age restriction. Ron White, Dave Chappelle, David Sedaris, and Broadway shows ‘The Book of Mormon’ and ‘Rent,’ just to name a few.
“In the end, the answer is clear: if you do not want you and/or your children to see an event at the Tennessee Theatre, I would strongly advise you not buy a ticket,” Hancock wrote.
Hancock told commissioners she spoke with Zachary on Oct. 21 and Commissioner Gina Oster on Dec. 16, and that she welcomes further discussion.
Hancock said the same event was held in 2021 to a sold-out crowd and the theatre received no negative feedback or concern. She went on to say that the theatre attempts to host programming that appeals to “many different types of audiences” and not everything that happens at the theatre will be enjoyed by everyone.
Both the Knox County and Knoxville mayors have released statements about the show.
“I want to reiterate what I’ve already said. Consenting adults should be free to do what they wish, but we should be concerned about the children going to events like this. Unfortunately, there is nothing on the books that allows us to do anything about it. We did talk to the theater and we were able to get officials there to include a parental advisory disclaimer. The state will be taking this issue up in the next legislative session.”Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs
“Part of what makes Knoxville a great place to live and raise a family is its cultural diversity – having many options to enjoy entertainment of your choosing,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “Variety and diversity are good. If something is not to your taste, don’t buy a ticket. Everyone should find the entertainment that gives them joy.”Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon
Drags shows have become a recent point of contention across the United States and in Tennessee. In November, Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson filed a bill that would ban some drag performances in public and/or in front of children. Similar legislation has been filed in Florida and Texas.