Anti-drag governor tries to explain away photo of him in cheerleader skirt and wig

An image of what appears to be Bill Lee cross-dressing.

A Republican governor pushing anti-drag bills has said an old picture, believed to show him skipping while dressed as a girl, was part of a “light-hearted school tradition”.

Tennessee governor Bill Lee was accused of hypocrisy after a leaked photo of him wearing a dress in his high school days, surfaced, coinciding with his pledge to sign an anti-drag bill in the state.

Tennessee Senate Bill 3 (SB3) was passed by the House to be sent to governor Lee’s desk for his signature last week.

If signed into law, the legislation will prevent public drag and “adult cabaret” performances in locations that could be “viewed by a person who is not an adult”.

It defines “adult cabaret performances” as productions that “feature male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appears to prurient interest”.

Because of this vague definition, state LGBTQ+ activists have expressed fears about the law being used to not only silence drag, but also transgender, performers – and even Pride.

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Bill Lee speaking at a US presidential event in 2021.
Governor Bill Lee intends to sign SB3 in the coming days. (Getty)

Following Lee’s announcement on Monday (27 February) that he intends to sign the bill, a picture featuring him in a wig and wearing a cheerleader’s uniform in 1977 were leaked online.

A Reddit user initially shared the photo – in which the future governor is also wearing a pearl necklace – which was quickly shared across the internet.

Digital media advocacy group, The Tennessee Holler – which uses the catchphrase “Always yell the truth” – then provoked Lee with the photo, asking why drag was “only illegal when gay people do it”.

The governor’s office told NBC News that the photo represented a light-hearted school tradition and Lee himself, without confirming the picture was of him, later said it was “ridiculous …conflating something like that to sexualised entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious subject”.

His decision to sign the bill has been vehemently criticised by various groups, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

In a statement, HRC legal director, Sarah Warbelow, said that the bill has “done nothing but spread hate, misinformation, and extremism”.

She added: “Drag is a long-standing, celebratory form of entertainment and a meaningful source of employment for many across the state.

“Rather than focus on actual policy issues facing Tennesseans, politicians would rather spend their time and effort misconstruing age-appropriate performances at a library.”

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