Republicans launch bid to ban trans healthcare and drag performances hours after election

Drag queen Yuhua Hamaskai takes part in a Drag Queen Story Hour event

Tennessee lawmakers wasted no time after the midterm elections to introduce anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

On Wednesday (9 November), Republican lawmakers put forth bills against both gender-affirming care and public drag performances.

The legislation was introduced by Tennessee Senate majority leader Jack Johnson and House majority leader William Lamberth. Both won reelection on Tuesday (8 November) in the US midterm elections.

Tennessee’s Senate Bill 1 seeks to criminalise gender-affirming healthcare for children under 18, while Senate Bill 3 would ban public drag performances where they may be seen by children.

Under SB 1, medical interventions or procedures altering a child’s hormones or affirming their gender would be illegal. If violated, the penalty against health care providers could amount to $25,000.

Tennessee governor Bill Lee in 2021 signed a law banning medical practitioners from prescribing puberty blockers or hormone treatment for trans youth before they enter puberty – SB 1 goes further, banning such care for all under-18s.

Under SB 3, an “adult cabaret” performance held in public – or where minors might see it – would be illegal. The bill states that these performances may involve “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.”

Repeat offenders of SB 3 would be charged with a felony.

The push to ban gender-affirming care is clearly not new, neither is the rally against public drag performances.

Freedom For All Americans is tracking bills targeted trans youth healthcare in 20 US states.

As recently as October, the Idaho Family Policy Center (IFPC) announced it is drafting a bill to ban all public drag performances in Idaho.

The IFPC draft, similar to the bills introduced by Tennessee lawmakers, operates under the guise of protecting children’s “health and welfare”.

Queer people in Tennessee say that these legislative attacks are part of a larger encroachment on LGBTQ+ rights and identities.

Nashville drag performer Jared Davis told WKRN that LGBTQ+ people are unfairly targeted in these bills, and that children are often exposed to cisgender, straight sexual performances.

“I’ve worked at a couple of other spaces on Broadway and there are children walking up and down the streets on Broadway while drunk bachelorettes are hanging out of the side of a bus, screaming obscenities, wasted, people acting a fool on the street, but no one has a problem with that because it’s heterosexual sex acts,” Davis told WKRN.

Davis said that such potential restrictions on his art could spell danger for people who make a career of performing.

“It’s a little terrifying because it kind of seems like they are setting the groundwork for this morality police thing,” he told WKRN. “Giving very mid-century.”

Notably, SB 3 in its sweeping nature does not effectively acknowledge the diversity of drag performances and audiences.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director at Human Rights Campaign, told The Advocate that drag performances are an age-old form of entertainment appreciating a variety of audiences.

“This proposal as written should not impact drag story hours and similar events because they are not ‘prurient’ performances,” Warbelow said. “But it is evident that the legislation aims to mislead the public and intimidate LGBTQ+ people by perpetuating false, offensive narratives.”

The Tennessee state legislature will convene in January.