How Did Tennessee’s Drag Queen Bill Get Passed?

By Ron Hale Published on March 10, 2023

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill into law on March 2, 2023, that more state legislatures and governors need to follow for protecting children.

The bill protects children from seeing grown men “dressing like women and parading their half-naked and sexually charged bodies in front of kids, even prancing for dollars in some videotaped instances,” said journalist Cheryl K. Chumley of The Washington Times just days before Gov. Lee signed this “first-of-its kind” bill.

The National Review writes,

The bill, which passed 74-to-19, makes it illegal to host ‘an adult cabaret performance’ where children may be present. Cabaret performances are defined as those featuring ‘topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, [and] male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.’

The Choice

Actions in my hometown of Jackson, Tennessee in the fall of 2022 initiated the state bill. Jackson lies between Memphis and Nashville in West Tennessee. It is the hometown of “Too Tall” Jones, railroad engineer Casey Jones, and became the home of singer Carl Perkins.

Many concerned citizens were given this choice in 2022: would we allow the children of our city to be used as props for Leftist political activism? Parents, pastors, and politicians decided to draw a clear line between adult sexuality and childhood innocence. Adult-oriented drag queen shows would be off-limits to young boys and girls.

Jackson Pride’s first two annual events took place without controversy or opposition. In 2022, organizers of their third annual event chose to add entertainment that had already caused great concern around our state and nation. The addition of a public performance by drag queens while promoting it as a “family-friendly drag show” caused public opposition as citizens and community leaders questioned its appropriateness for children.

Parents Got Educated

Concerned parents already knew about the recent debacle in East Tennessee as the “Chattanooga Pride faced a firestorm after a video showed a child touching the crotch of a Chattanooga Princess Parties performer [drag queen] dressed in a mermaid costume at an event hosted at Wanderlinger Brewing Company.” Another shocking example came from an event in Dallas, Texas, as drag queens took cash tips from kids while dancing “and writhing suggestively in front of a particularly memorable neon sign that read, ‘It’s not gonna lick itself.’” An internet search will provide other examples.

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Alarmed parents already knew that the Drag Queen Story Hour was started in San Francisco in 2015. Activists with the American Library Association have been leading workshops for librarians around the nation on “how” to host DQSH events. Even liberals have voiced disapproval of these events. Writing for Canada’s leading feminist website, the “Feminist Current” [hardly a bastion of conservative thought], Alline Cormier said, “Drag queen story times break down children’s natural boundaries toward strange men and vulgar behaviour, making them vulnerable to sex predators.”

All Politics Is Local

With the Jackson drag show set for October 8 in Conger Park, a group of local pastors, representatives from “We the People of West Tennessee,” and local leaders met at First Assembly Church to pray and share concerns. With singleness of purpose, the men and women left determined to protect our children from misguided men dressed as clownish caricatures of women while exposing young boys and girls to overt and outrageous depictions of adult sexuality.

Speaking for Jackson’s mayor Scott Conger, the city attorney wrote in a public statement, “We’ve done the research, we can find no federal, state, or local law preventing the Pride event from occurring.” Statements like this only added to the confusion because public opposition was focused on disallowing children attend a drag queen show, not the overall event.

Tennessee Rep. Chris Todd informed the city that Tennessee Code 7-51-1407 states “An adult-oriented establishment or adult cabaret shall not locate within one thousand feet (1,000’) of a child care facility, a private, public, or charter school, a public park, family recreation center, a residence, or place of worship.”

While attorneys disagreed on the enforcement of the state legal code, TN Rep. Chris Todd, TN State Sen. Ed Jackson, and a group of Madison County citizens filed an injunction with the Chancery Court for Madison County, Tennessee. This legal action eventually brought state and local lawmakers to the table with event organizers for formal negotiations. Under the wise judicial guidance of Chancellor Steven Maroney, an agreement was struck. The controversial drag queen show would be limited to participants 18 years old and up. Maroney was quoted saying, “I want to thank the attorneys in this matter for working together to reach an agreement. I know it’s been a high-profile matter and a matter of much public interest” … “I’m glad we could reach a resolution that all parties are satisfied by.”

To clear up future legal confusion, Rep. Chris Todd worked with TN Senate Majority Leader, Jack Johnson to sponsor a bill that would ban drag shows for children within the state of Tennessee. The 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 parents, pastors, and politicians who fought for the protection of our children are thankful for the courage of Gov. Bill Lee.


Ron F. Hale is an interim pastor and freelance writer. He has authored articles for The Stream, The Christian Post, The Christian Index, American Thinker, and various Baptist State newspapers.

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