NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In front of a packed house, the Tennessee House Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted to advance a bill to potentially criminalize certain drag shows.
“We are fighting against a group of folks who are set on hate but really have no understanding of what it looks like in theory and in practice,” Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said.
Multiple people testified against the bill, saying it unfairly castigates the LGBTQ+ community.
“Last week, I went to a drag show and I was forced to walk past a mob of masked men with guns and swastikas to get into that drag show,” actor and drag show performer Ellen Vessels said.
But the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Chris Todd (R-Madison County), said his bill has nothing to do with drag shows.
“Why are we targeting this one thing?” Johnson asked Todd.
“So far, Mr. Chairman, the only person that’s mentioned anything about drag has been the representative from Knox County,” Todd responded to the committee. “I haven’t said anything about that.”
Some Republicans did have some concerns, particularly on the vagueness of the bill.
“Tennessee’s own Miley Cyrus at Bridgestone Arena, seen her there in the past myself,” Rep. Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City) said. “Would that cross the line, could she be subject to a pair of handcuffs based upon the vagueness?”
Todd said that it would depend on the definition of if the performance is damaging to children, something that Democrats argue isn’t exactly clear.
“Is it just harmful to children if someone is wearing clothes that some people think aren’t aligned with their sex?” Johnson said. “Is that what makes it wrong?”
Ultimately, on a party-line vote, the bill advanced to the full Criminal Justice Committee, which will hear it, at the earliest, next week.
Later Tuesday, the bill went before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It also advanced the bill along party lines. Senators will now decide if the bill will pass their chamber, at the earliest once again, next week.
Hundreds of bills will be up for debate during the 113th General Assembly. Tennessee lawmakers shared their thoughts on some of the major issues up for discussion at this year’s legislative session.
You can also find daily coverage from the session here.