In the great state of Tennessee, a group of Republican legislators is striving to put restrictions on drag queen performances, particularly where children might be present. This movement, led by Republican Senator Jack Johnson, began in November when he introduced Senate Bill 3. The bill aims to protect children from being “exposed” to the LGBTQ community and sexually explicit material by prohibiting drag queens from performing in front of minors.
Nashville’s vibrant drag queen community, however, is pushing back against these conservative efforts. One prominent figure standing up to Senator Johnson is Veronika Electronika, a well-known drag queen who performs at the popular 5 Points Diner and Bar in Nashville.
This venue is famous for its highly attended drag queen brunches. Veronika argues that Senator Johnson’s attempts to ban drag queen performances near children are nothing more than an effort to suppress the LGBTQ community’s celebration of its diversity.
Senate Bill 3 could have serious consequences for drag queens, as it may criminalize their performances in front of underage audiences. Veronika expressed her concerns to NBC News, stating, “If that law passes, I would be committing a potential felony. I don’t know who will be the drag police to judge whether my performance was adult-oriented.”
This legislative push came in response to a video that surfaced of a drag queen event at a Tennessee college. In the footage, children are seen giving drag queens dollar bills as they perform on stage. Senator Johnson and other supporters of the bill argue that drag queen events are “adult cabaret performances” filled with “obscenity and pornography” that are not appropriate for children under eighteen.
Senator Johnson’s goal is to pass the bill within the year, and he seeks to “create an offense for a person who engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property or in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.” However, critics argue that drag queen performances are not inherently offensive.
Chris Saunders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, told NBC News, “What does it mean when someone who is dancing shakes their hips? Cheerleaders clearly do it. Dance teams clearly do it. If a drag queen does it, does that suddenly make it sexual?” Saunders believes that the conservative bill poses a threat to the LGBTQ community, as drag queen performers can be both “male or female impersonators.” He warned, “This can go down a very bad path quickly. You could be harassed increasingly for being trans and nonbinary in public.”
Senator Johnson maintains that the intention of the bill is to protect children from sexually explicit content, not to target or attack anyone.
He explained, “The intent of the legislation is just to simply say that you cannot have sexually explicit entertainment…in a public venue where kids might be present.” He added, “We’re protecting kids and families and parents who want to be able to take their kids to public places. We’re not attacking anyone or targeting anyone. I’ve heard references to this bill that it will ban drag shows. Well, no, it won’t. It just says you can’t do something that’s sexually explicit. It won’t prevent someone dressed in drag from being in a parade or being in public.”
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