Tennessee residents, business owners worry about the 'unintended' consequences of new drag bill

Organizations and groups calling on Gov. Lee to veto bill
Posted at 5:59 PM, Feb 24, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The drag bill — SB0003 and HB0009 — determines where drag queens and kings can perform, and that creates many questions for Tennesseans.

There are concerns about how it could hurt the state's economy and the livelihoods of Tennesseans. It’s a few steps away from becoming law, and many people are calling on Gov. Bill Lee to veto it.

For DeeDee, the legislation in Tennessee is enough to drive them crazy.

"In 2023 it does feel like we’re going back to the Stonewall days of the 60s," Drag performer DeeDee said.

DeeDee is a 14-year drag veteran in Nashville and has had some amazing opportunities.

"I actually performed with Dolly at TPAC. I would no longer be able to do that under this law because there are children under 18 there," DeeDee said.

This is one example of what critics of the state’s drag bill believe is going to hurt all Tennessee performers.

"It's a bill that we feel is discriminatory towards us," DeeDee said.

Supporters of the bill said they want to protect minors from sexual performances, so if the governor signs the bill, it would make it a crime for drag performers to perform for minors and in public spaces where they're present.

"The law requires it to be harmful to minors which has a constitutional definition which has a sexual component and other things that none of the drag I know has," Play and Tribe co-owner David Taylor said.

The bill is already affecting the livelihoods of drag performers. DeeDee has already had to turn down a wedding.

"I just informed them I'm no longer able to accept bookings outside my place of employment. There may be under 18-year-olds at the wedding, even though it’s a private event, it’s in a public place," DeeDee said.

Tennessee Pride Chamber president Brian Rosman and supporting business are asking the governor to veto the bill. They want to protect an art form dating back years.

He also wants to protect the state’s economy since drag brunches and pride festivals bring in money to the state. Drag performers are often the heart of a pride festival, and people of all ages are welcomed.

"Drag performers are heroes within the LGBTQ+ community," Rosman said.

Roseman and Taylor don't know what a pride festival looks like without drag.

"Drag performances are both protected under both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions as an art form and a form of political protest. People spend money at retail, restaurants, and hotels when they come for pride festivals. It’s an economic opportunity that gets lost in a lot of these discussions," Rosman said.

DeeDee is grateful to work in facilities like Play and Tribe that are 18 and up, but not every drag performer in TN has the luxury.

"It hurts me to think that their income is going to be affected," DeeDee said.

They say drag performers have dreams too and they’ll never let anyone take those away.

"You always have to hold on to hope," DeeDee said.

The bill is heading to the senate to be voted on again, after the house made some changes to it. The odds are the majority will vote yes, since it’s already passed the senate once. The next step will be for the bill to head to Governor Lee's desk.

The Tennessee Pride Chamber plans to deliver itsletter to the governor on Monday, so more business owners have an opportunity to sign it.

NewsChannel 5 reached out to several pride organizations to get their thoughts on the bill and to find out the future of pride festivals in Tennessee.

Nashville Pride: "The Nashville Pride Board of Directors is disappointed that HB9/SB3 were passed and will have a direct impact on our community. Pride festivities have been taking place in Nashville officially for 35 years, but unofficially for 50 years. The LGBTQ+ community is no stranger to this type of rhetoric that's being spewed throughout the state. Every year Nashville Pride has served as a place to honor our history, experience and celebrate the present moment, and acknowledge the work that remains to protect and expand our rights under the law–and this year is no exception. The Nashville Pride Festival and Parade is set for June 24-25, 2023, in downtown Nashville. While it is vital that we continue to combat these hateful and discriminatory bills, it is even more important that we come together as a community, create a safe space, and relay a unified message: the LGTBQ+ community is omnipresent in Tennessee, and we won't let this silence us or push us back in the closet."

BoroPride: "We have been fighting the anti-drag bills and other discriminatory bills in the Legislature because of the danger they pose to performers, Pride celebrations, and the whole community. We worry about the vagueness of the bill and the potential for selective enforcement. We will look for ways for BoroPride to go on that protect the safety of all those attending, but any new restrictions that become law will complicate those efforts. The Governor ought to veto this attack on the First Amendment and the LGBTQ community."

Franklin Pride: "We are disappointed, but not surprised, that the drag bill has passed both houses of the Tennessee legislature. This bill affects the community at large but sadly, we expect it to become law. The drag show was the most popular entertainment segment at our two previous annual festivals. Franklin Pride has been and continues to be a family-friendly event and adheres to all laws — local, state, and federal. We will have a great festival on June 3."

Knoxville Pride: "Knox Pride is deeply disappointed, but not surprised by the passage of SB1/HB1 and SB3/HB9. These thinly veiled, direct attacks on the Trans community are government overreaches to appease outside interests. When we have over 1500 kids in DCS without that being a focus, the priority is clearly not children, as they say. Knox Pride will be transitioning our three-day October event this year. "No of US are Free until ALL of US are Free" is the theme of our march and protest. Reengagement of our community's activist roots is the mission. In good conscience, we can't hold a celebration, so we're activating LGBTQIA+ folks and our allies to stop these kinds of bills for the future. Educating folks is a pillar of the Knox Pride mission, and we're leaning heavily into that."

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