A federal judge blocked a Tennessee law on Friday that would have limited drag queens’ performances in front of children, one day before it was scheduled to take effect on April 1.
Granting a temporary restraining order to Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBTQ theater group that brought the lawsuit to court, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker ruled that the law’s enforcement would be blocked for two weeks. He described the legislation as “likely both vague and overly-broad.”
“Does a citizen’s private residence count? How about a camping ground at a national park? What if a minor browsing the world wide web from a public library views an ‘adult cabaret performance’?” Parker wrote in Friday’s ruling. “Ultimately, the Statute’s broad language clashes with the First Amendment’s tight constraints.”
The Court is mindful that a TRO is an extraordinary remedy, and that enjoining enforcement of the Statute precludes, or at least delays, the Tennessee General Assembly’s legislative act. The Court does not take such actions lightly. But within our country’s federal framework, states are laboratories of democracy that can test laws and policies enacted by The People.
Even still, these experiments are not without constraints. The United States Constitution—a law that is supreme even to the Tennessee General Assembly’s acts—has placed some issues beyond the reach of the democratic process. First among them is the freedom of speech. If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution. The Court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this Statute, it missed the mark.
The blocking of the law came just one day before it was set to take effect after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a bill earlier in March aimed at restricting drag queens from performing in front of impressionable young children.
The legislation reads:
This bill creates 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. The bill defines an “adult cabaret performance” to mean a performance in a location other than an adult cabaret that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration.
As part of a sweeping set of reforms aimed at protecting children from abuse, Tennessee also banned transgender surgeries, hormones, and puberty blockers for those under the age of 18.
Political tensions over transgenderism and LGBT rights are at an all-time high in Tennessee after a 28-year-old transgender man opened fire on students at a private Christian school near Nashville which they had once attended. Six people were killed in the incident, including three, nine-year-old children.
Transgender activists have since attempted to make themselves the victims of the attack, complaining about a potentially violent backlash against the community.
“You don’t know if [the shooter’s gender identity] is going to trigger a community of people who already hated us to come and try to shoot us to prove a point,” one transgender activist told Sky News. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of hurt going on, there’s a lot of anger going on, there’s a lot of confusion going on.”
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