KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE/WKRN) — The Blount County district attorney sent a letter to Blount Pride organizers, warning them of potential prosecution if they violate what’s known as Tennessee’s “anti-drag law” at their event Saturday, despite a federal judge ruling the law was unconstitutional.
The Adult Entertainment Law was signed into Tennessee law in early 2023, criminalizing drag shows that take place in public or where they could be seen by children.
U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Parker, a Trump appointee, blocked the law in June. He wrote in his ruling that the law violates the First Amendment and was “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti asserted in a statement after the ruling that the law remains in effect outside of Shelby County and that the state would appeal the ruling at an appropriate time.
Blount County District Attorney Ryan Desmond wrote in his letter to Blount Pride organizers, local leaders, and law enforcement, “It is clear from the holding and subsequent order that this enjoinder is presently only applicable to the 30th Judicial District.”
Knox Pride is showing its support for Blount Pride following the warning.
“That Blount Pride is having to deal with this at all right now, right before the festival, is not only shocking but just inappropriate,” Nathan Higdon, treasurer of Knox Pride, said.
Knox Pride is a sponsor of the Blount Pride event, so Higdon encouraged the community to join them in support.
“Knox Pride is 100% behind Blount Pride and we will fully support them and be there this weekend to help in any way that we possibly can and not just this weekend but in the future,” Higdon said.
He also said they aren’t changing their plans for the event following the letter.
“We will have a booth there as we did in previous Blount Pride events and we’ll be happy to be there and we will always support other LGBTQIA organizations and folks throughout East Tennessee. So, we’ll see you there Saturday,” Higdon said.
“It is my conclusion that violations of the AEA can and will be prosecuted by my office, however, it is important to note that we do not prematurely evaluate the facts or evidence related to a potential investigation into possible criminal conduct,” Desmond wrote in the letter. “It is only after review of all the relevant evidence that my office will reach a position as to whether criminal conduct has occurred.”
Desmond also cited “concerned citizens” as a reason for sending the letter, Higdon said there is a simple solution for those opposed to the event.
“These events are important and ultimately if people don’t like what is going on at them, which is mostly folks just coming together in a safe space, then my suggestion to them is, don’t come.”
In addition, Desmond acknowledged the possibility of protesters and counter-protesters at the event, and quoted the First Amendment in his letter, saying, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” He then went on to state, “It is important however to place emphasis on the word ‘peaceably’ in the above-referenced amendment.”
The Blount Pride event is schedule for Saturday Sept. 2 at 1 p.m. It will take place at the Clayton Center for the Arts on the Maryville College Campus. Knox Pride is holding a pride celebration on Oct. 6-8.
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The Associated Press reported on Thursday, Aug. 31 that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee filed a lawsuit on behalf of the organization planning Blount Pride. In addition, the ACLU is representing drag queen Flamy Grant, who was hired to perform at the event.
The plaintiffs are asking the federal court in East Tennessee to block the anti-drag law from being enforced and declare it illegal, according to The Associated Press.
“Threatening to enforce this unconstitutional law amounts to a harmful attempt to remove LGBTQ people from public life, which is simply unacceptable,” said ACLU Tennessee Legal Director Stella Yarbrough in a statement. “The court has made it abundantly clear that drag performance is constitutionally protected expression under the First Amendment, regardless of where in the state it is performed.”
The Associated Press said Desmond’s office has not commented on the lawsuit.