'We are the hated': Tennessee becomes first state with new drag law

Posted at 4:15 PM, Mar 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-06 19:28:36-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee is the first state to outlaw drag in public places, and some performers feel it's discriminatory.

For Deshay Ellington, dressing up as Prince or other people is an escape.

"Some of us like myself who suffer from depression, that’s a way we are actually free to be ourselves and let go of all we’ve had to deal with during the week," Ellington said.

He said the new law targeting drag is discriminatory.

"People are taught to hate,” Ellington said, “And now they want to teach the fact that drag is bad and sexual? That’s teaching hate."

Starting April 1, they're no longer able to perform in public places, or in a spot where children may be present. If they do, they can be charged with a misdemeanor. The second offense is a felony.

"It breaks my heart, because basically, you’re telling me it’s illegal to be an artist," Ellington said.

They feel the crackdown is political posturing.

“That’s our time to be free, with all the hate we have to deal with and go through," Ellington said, "We are the hated.”

As of now, it’s unclear how the new law could impact some venues.

"I think it will slow it down a lot," Ellington said.

In addition, a second bill would require entertainers to get a permit. It would also prohibit venues from letting people under the age of 18.

“Drag has been around for years, so why should we have to have a license to perform? That’s just like telling an artist you have to have this to show your art,” Ellington said.

Until then, Deshay will keep looking for private places to perform in front of adults.

In addition to male and female impersonators, the new law also applies to topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, and strippers.