KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The organizers of the annual Knoxville Pride Festival said the event will be cancelled if a bill restricting where drag shows can take place becomes law.

If passed, drag performances on public property or where they can be seen by someone who is not an adult would be banned effective April 1. A first offense for a performer would be a Class A misdemeanor, but a second or subsequent violation would be a Class E felony.

The bill passed the Tennessee Senate on Thursday and now must be approved by the house to become law.

“This is a DIRECT attack against the LGBTQIA+ community right before Pride Month,” Knox Pride CEO John Camp said in a statement released Thursday.

Knox Pride said in the statement it will be forced cancel the 2023 Knox Pride Festival and parade in October if it becomes law. The festival is the largest fundraiser of the year for the 501c3 organization that helps fund the Knox Pride Resource Center, which provides a food pantry, a thrift store to provide low and no-cost clothing to houseless and precariously housed individuals, life skills classes, and more, Knox Pride said.

According to Camp, the 2022 festival had 75,000 attendees and 125 performers, 100 who were drag artists, in Downtown Knoxville.

“We’re not surprised that it passed. We’re kind of saddened. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that this is such an issue or has to be such a top issue for so many people,” Knox Pride CEO John Camp said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, so we’re kind of… Kind of dumbfounded right now that this is something that we are wasting time, energy, and taxpayer money on. “

“We are too large of an event to be indoors. World’s Fair Park is the space that will fit for the amount of people that come in Knoxville. We’re one of the largest events in Knoxville. We’re the largest free pride in the South and we feel it’s important for that entertainment aspect to be there,” Camp said. “People want that. People come for that. It’s part of Pride Fest since we started in the 90s and it has been something that’s happened in Knoxville earlier than that.”

Camp said that state and East Tennessee lawmakers should be spending their time and energy in a better manner by focusing on the housing crisis and on the 1,500 houseless youth in Knoxville rather than drag performers doing something outside or inside at a brunch regardless of whether children are involved.

“If this moves forward into law, the Knox Pride Festival, and potentially the Parade, would be against the law in the ways we have presented entertainment in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. You can no longer say you’re an ally if you are not helping us fight this.” Camp said. “if the Greater Knoxville area community wants the Knox Pride Festival to go forward as planned, then people must stop this for becoming law.”

Knox Pride is urging those who are concerned, angered, or wish to support the community to:

  • Visit the TN General Assembly website.
  • Contact their State House Representative ASAP to demand they do not support House Bill 9 as it attempts to advance.
  • Call and hold their State Senator accountable for this vote.
  • Run for office against elected officials who don’t support the LGBTQIA+ community.

“We appreciate the continued support from the queer community, our allies, the local legislatures and the elected officials who are for what we do and understand our community and support our community. We’re not hurting anyone. Drag is an art form like any other kind, so we do appreciate the continued support,” Camp said. “We hope to bring Pride Fest and drag brunches and drag in our local entertainment, drag time story time. We want to keep those things going because I think the majority of Knoxvillians do appreciate that, or don’t care either way.”

“I think that a lot of people aren’t concerned. I think that it’s a narrative that’s being pushed for a small amount of people, but but drag is art and drag has been in Knoxville for a very long time. Had a lot of support and we hope to continue building on that support and working together with with the people of Knoxville.”