NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee lawmakers kicked off the annual legislative session this week in Nashville.

Ahead of the 113th General Assembly, WKRN News 2’s Chris O’Brien sat down with leaders on both sides of the aisle to talk about all the issues and what they might look like in bill form.

Separate interviews were conducted with Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland), Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Democratic House Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville).

Not every interviewee was asked about every subject, but there was considerable crossover with most of them.

Transgender Therapy, Drag Shows, and LGBTQ+ Rights

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) filed two bills affecting the LGBTQ+ community—one that would outlaw children’s transgender therapy and another to ban drag shows deemed sexual in nature.

Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) also filed SB0005 in case someone tries to alter Leader Johnson’s bill. All the legislation has drawn a sharp response from Democrats in the legislature.

Democrats, including Clemmons, have argued that there are far more pressing issues our legislature should be focused on—naming education, DCS issues, and inflation, specifically.

Below you’ll find what lawmakers said ahead of the session when asked about their thoughts on transgender therapy, drag shows, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Clemmons: “Tennessee families, from one end of the state to the other, are facing a lot of challenges on a daily basis. Drag shows don’t rank anywhere near the top 100 of those challenges facing Tennessee families on a daily basis. I really would like to see the Republicans and Democrats work across the aisle to actually address problems that Tennessee families are facing.”

“I hate to see a bunch of people just trying to grab headlines with unconstitutional legislation. My guiding principle in public service is if the bill, in any way, discriminates against any individual, it’s bad. I wish that my colleagues across the aisle would have that same guiding principle.”

Johnson: “The one dealing with transgender reassignment surgery on minors, the overwhelming amount of positive support and feedback and support we’ve received is not surprising, but it certainly has been encouraging. So, I’m excited about advancing that legislation, I think it is a no-brainer, as they say, that in the state of Tennessee, we’re not going to make these permanent, body-altering surgeries on minors.” 

“As I always say when I’m addressing this, love these kids, I recognize that this is something that is difficult, that some of these kids go through. We want to love them, we want to get them the help they need, in terms of counseling and therapy. But let’s not make any decisions or allow decisions to be made to do something that’s irreversible.”

“The other bill that’s been dubbed a drag-show bill, and I’m guilty of that as well, it’s not a drag-show bill. It’s a bill about saying we’re not going to have sexually explicit, adult-themed entertainment in front of kids, whether it’s someone who’s dressed in drag or not.”

Akbari: “Any time you have a piece of legislation where you’re attacking a certain part of our Tennessee community, we’re going to fight back. That’s what we’ve had to do these past several years, getting certain things on the record, really trying to find out what the root of this legislation is. In our ideal world, we hope it would die because it’s not something that is going to put more food on the table, make people safer, make people have better healthcare. It’s a real social issue, a political issue, that doesn’t even address a real problem in Tennessee.”

Lamberth: “Leader Johnson and I put this bill out there literally the day after the election. That’s to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to look at the language of this bill and make sure there were no unintended consequences because the goal of this bill is very simple. We want to make sure that every single child is protected from any type of outside force that’s trying to push an irreversible decision on them that they can make when they’re an adult.”

“While they’re children, we want them protected from some of these ultra-liberal perspectives where it’s a surgery-first decision. It’s utilizing medicines that have never been used in this way that will have lifelong negative effects for these children.”

“We want to make sure that tried and true methods and mental health treatment, that everything is tried before you start cutting parts off a child. That’s just inappropriate, it’s never been appropriate in the history of our society.” 

“We want to make sure these children are surrounded by love and support if they’re going through a mental health condition – which is what gender dysphoria is, it’s always been recognized as such.”

A poll from Vanderbilt University released late last year found that 67% of Tennessee voters would oppose putting restrictions on transgender Americans’ access to healthcare.

Tennessee also currently is one of the most draconian states against LGBTQ+ rights.