Gov. Bill Lee Signs Drag Performance Ban into Law Despite Yearbook Photo Controversy
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed a bill into law that will ban drag performances in public and in front of children. The law is designed to restrict “adult cabaret entertainment” that could be seen by minors, and threatens performers with a misdemeanor charge or a felony if it’s a repeat offense. This is part of a larger effort by Republican lawmakers across the country to limit the rights of LGBTQ people, with more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills either passed or introduced in 2022, the majority of which target trans youth through health care bans, sports team restrictions, and bathroom bills.
Recently, Lee has been accused of being a hypocrite after an anonymous Reddit user uploaded a picture from a 1977 high school yearbook. The photo appears to show Lee wearing women's clothes and a wig, while the female students next to him are dressed in men's suits. After the measure passed in the Senate on Thursday afternoon, Lee signed it just a few hours later. Lee signed a prohibition on gender-affirming health care for youth in the same session.
Jack Johnson, a Republican state representative from Tennessee who co-sponsored the bill, said regarding the new law: “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.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has vowed to challenge the law, and the ACLU Tennessee wrote earlier this month: “These laws are written so broadly and vaguely that they would allow government officials to censor performers based on their own subjective viewpoints of what they deem appropriate on any given day.”
The governor was also reasonably attractive in the 1977 yearbook photo of an annual “powderpuff” event at Franklin High, in which girls dressed like boys (often football players) and boys dressed like girls (often cheerleaders). This legislative session is the third year in a row that the statehouse has peeled back the rights of transgender Tennesseans, and it has many trans people and families of trans kids wondering whether staying in the state is worth the fight.
Gov. Bill Lee has been asked to address a picture from a 1977 Williamson County high school year book posted on Reddit. The photo appears to show Lee dressed as a woman, alongside girls dressed in suits and ties.
0. “Governor to restrict drag performances, despite awkward photo” MSNBC, 28 Feb. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/maddowblog/governor-restrict-drag-performances-awkward-photo-rcna72648
1. “Band protests TN drag bill by wearing dresses” WVLT, 4 Mar. 2023, https://www.wvlt.tv/2023/03/04/band-protests-tn-drag-bill-by-wearing-dresses/
2. “The Real, Sinister Political Threat of Tennessee's New Anti-Drag Law” The Intercept, 4 Mar. 2023, https://theintercept.com/2023/03/04/tennessee-anti-drag-law/
3. “Tennessee poised to become first state to restrict drag performances in 2023” WKOW, 2 Mar. 2023, https://www.wkow.com/news/tennessee-poised-to-become-first-state-to-restrict-drag-performances-in-2023/article_8f666988-1067-5b37-a4c7-0fa2948dd4be.html
4. “Tennessee makes drag and trans health care bans law” NPR, 3 Mar. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/03/02/1160784530/tennessee-ban-public-drag-shows-transgender-health-care-youth
5. “Tennessee Bans Drag Shows in Public Places” The Cut, 3 Mar. 2023, https://www.thecut.com/2023/03/tennessee-bans-drag-shows-in-public-places.html
6. “Karine Jean-Pierre Reacts to ‘Dangerous' Tennessee Public Drag Show Ban” Yahoo Life, 3 Mar. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/karine-jean-pierre-reacts-dangerous-200916018.html
7. “Drag-Banning Tennessee Guv Shrugs Off Old Drag Pic as a ‘Lighthearted Tradition'” The Daily Beast, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.thedailybeast.com/anti-drag-tennessee-governor-bill-lee-may-have-done-drag-himself
8. “Zachary Stamper Plans Billboards of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee Dressed as Girl” The Daily Beast, 4 Mar. 2023, https://www.thedailybeast.com/zachary-stamper-plans-billboards-of-tennessee-gov-bill-lee-dressed-as-girl
9. “Gov. Bill Lee will sign drag bill, reacts to yearbook photo showing him dressed as a woman” Tennessean, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2023/02/27/tennessee-drag-bill-lee-to-sign-law-reacts-yearbook-photo/69951107007/