Officials fail to shut down local Pride under Tennessee’s anti-drag law: ‘You can’t touch our Pride’

Blount County Pride Tennessee

Despite attempts to stop it by officials citing Tennessee’s repressive drag ban, a joyful local Pride festival took place on Saturday (2 September) – with drag performers very much included.

District attorney Ryan Desmond threatened to shut the Blount County Pride event down for featuring drag performers, despite a federal judge ruling Tennessee’s drag ban unconstitutional.

With the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and scheduled drag queen and singer-songwriter Flamy Grant, a lawsuit was raised to save the Pride event and stop attempts to block it.

“I’ve been to a lot of Pride celebrations in my day, and this one was by far the most gratifying,” Grant told PinkNews.

“Blount County is a really special place. The queer community is one of the most resilient and supportive I’ve encountered, especially in the face of so much oppression and cruel indifference from the elected officials and police hired to serve them.

In the initial complaint, Grant and the organisers of Blount County Pride argued that Tennessee attorney general Jonathan Skrmetti, Desmond and three other officials had infringed on their right to free speech.

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In a win for the LGBTQ+ community in Tennessee, a federal judge sided with with the organisers on Friday (1 September), granting a temporary restraining order preventing Desmond and other local law enforcement officials from enforcing the state law or interfering with the Blount County Pride festival.

This included “no discouraging of third parties from hosting or modifying the event, including the venue of Maryville College”, US district judge Ronnie Greer wrote.

Legislators tried to ban Tennesee Pride festival with anti-drag laws - they failed
Drag king Orion Mars reads a storybook to the families gathered. (Taryn Ferro/Aw, Snap Photos)

“I’m honoured to have played a small part in making sure this celebration happened,” Grant added, “and I stand in awe of the Blount Pride staff and volunteers and the ACLU team that fought for us.

“I am sure it won’t be my last time raising a ruckus with those fine folk.”

Blount Pride’s board president Ari Baker spoke to PinkNews about their win, expressing gratitude for the support of community and partners that “manifested such a beautiful, safe, uplifting celebration for Blount County”.

Baker continued: “It has been a rollercoaster of a week, but in the end we did exactly what we set out to do, and I think everyone who attended knows the love and support that exists for them in Appalachia and Blount County, Tennessee.”

Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr greets people attending Blount Pride, which DAs tried to shut down with anti-drag legislation. (Taryn Ferro/Aw, Snap Photos)

The Pride event saw Montana State representative and trans icon Zooey Zephyr in attendance, greeting Pride-goers as they entered the event, and drag king Orion Mars holding a family-friendly story time session.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Blount Pride commmended the “success” of the “safe, fun event”, writing: “Thank you to Maryville College and Clayton Center for the Arts staff for being amazing and supportive.

“Thank you to our many volunteers and sponsors. Thank you to our vendors and community resources fair participants. Thank you to our performers, including the spectacular Flamy Grant. Thank you to ACLU of Tennessee for their continuing support. And most of all, thank you to all of you who came and celebrated with us!”