Tennessee prosecutor sued after threatening Pride event ‘in an effort to erase queer folks’

A person holds up a sign reading 'drag is freedom' amid a protest against surging anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the US like Tennessee's drag ban

A lawsuit has been filed against Tennessee prosecutor Ryan K. Desmond after he threatened to shut down an upcoming Pride event under the state’s drag performance restrictions.

The District Attorney General warned in a letter to Blount County Pride organisers that the events taking place at this Saturday’s (2 September) Pride festival may “violate certain criminal statutes within the State of Tennessee.”

In response, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Tennessee teamed up with drag performer Flamy Grant to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Blount County Pride Festival.

In Desmond’s letter, he states that going ahead with this weekend’s Pride festival as planned would have “possible ramifications of criminal conduct.”

A person holds up a sign reading 'drag is not a crime' amid a protest against surging anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the US like Tennessee's drag ban
Judge Thomas Parker, a nominee of former president Donald Trump, ruled in June that Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation drag ban is unconstitutional. (Getty)

Tennessee was the first US state to place strict limits on public drag performances with the unconstitutional Adult Entertainment Act, which has been in effect since 1 July.

The Adult Entertainment Act states that drag shows, described as “adult cabaret” performances”, may not be held on public property or in spaces where they might be viewed by a minor.

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However, a federal judge ruled back in June that the state’s ban on drag shows was “unconstitutional”.

While Desmond acknowledged in his letter that he couldn’t find ways to prevent the upcoming Pride performance, he suggested his office would “ethically and justly prosecute” if there was sufficient evidence to prove that criminal statutes were violated.

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The ACLU’s lawsuit has described Desmond’s letter as a “naked attempt to chill” free speech.

ACLU Tennessee’s legal director Stella Yarbrough said in a statement on the lawsuit: “Threatening to enforce this unconstitutional law amounts to a harmful attempt to remove LGBTQ people from public life, which is simply unacceptable.

“The court has made it abundantly clear that drag performance is constitutionally protected expression under the First Amendment, regardless of where in the state it is performed.”

In a statement posted to Instagram, drag performer Flamy Grant, who was hired to perform at this weekend’s event stated: “It continues to astonish me the lengths some Americans will go to oppress their neighbours.”

The drag queen and chart-topping Christian music artist continued: “It is because drag is an art form uniquely presented and perfected by queer people to empower our community that it is under attack in this way. 

“People like DA Desmond knowingly abuse their power in an effort to erase queer folks from public life, doing unspeakable harm to the communities he is elected to serve.”

“At the present moment, Blount Pride intends to continue with our community celebration, and I will be there in all of my shine and shimmer, singing my songs and standing with the fabulous people of Maryville and Blount County.

“Our First Amendment rights matter just as much as anyone else’s. Our fundamental right to exist as we are, to gather in celebration of all our community has overcome, and to raise a rainbow ruckus in East Tennessee is worth fighting for. I’ll see y’all at Pride.”

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Keeping attendees updated on the upcoming event, organisers of Blount Pride stated in a Facebook post on Thursday: “We are concerned about how the current circumstances will affect Saturday’s Pride.

“However, at this time, we are planning to proceed with Blount Pride as scheduled. We encourage families to attend and celebrate with us as they are able. Should anything change regarding our plans, we will post this information to our website and social media.”

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