NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson filed legislation Tuesday that would ban some drag performances in public and or in front of children. If passed, it would charge repeat offenders with a felony.
“I filed legislation to ban any type of drag show that is sexual in nature from being performed in a public place where kids will be around to see it,” Johnson explained.
Members of the Tennessee LGBTQ community say this bill is the latest in a series of attacks from the General Assembly against them.
“It’s clear we are getting more scrutiny because LGBT people have always gotten more scrutiny and regulation,” said Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders.
Nashville entertainer and drag performer Jared Davis says these potential restrictions on his career and art are concerning.
“It’s a little terrifying because it kind of seems like they are setting the groundwork for this morality police thing. Giving very mid-century,” he said.
Johnson’s legislation is not only directed at drag performers, but any performance that features, “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration.”
The restrictions on these performances are specific to “public property” or “a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.”
“I don’t want to ban a theater company from doing a production of Mrs. Doubtfire in a public park,” Johnson said. “Most people have seen that movie where Robin Williams was dressing up as a woman. We don’t have an issue with that. We do have an issue with men dressed as women simulating sex acts in public parks in front of kids.”
He says what would be considered “a prurient interest” would be similar to how a U.S. Supreme Court Justice once described pornography.
“You know it when you see it,” he said. “When you have a drag show and the people participating in that performances are clearly doing sexually suggestive things as part of that drag show, I think most people understand that and there are legal things to define that.”
Yet, Davis says this law is targeting his community despite similar sexually suggestive outfits and performances being done in other spaces.
“I’ve worked at a couple of other spaces on Broadway and there are children walking up and down the streets on Broadway while drunk bachelorettes are hanging out of the side of a bus, screaming obscenities, wasted, people acting a fool on the street, but no one has a problem with that because it’s heterosexual sex acts,” Davis said.
While he says this legislation is an example of “fake outrage,” given that was filed by one of the state’s top GOP lawmakers in a time when the Republican Party has a supermajority, it can have a real and lasting impact on his career.