Tennessee Governor Signs Laws Protecting Minors from Drag Shows, Gender Transition Procedures
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) on Thursday signed two bills designed to protect children under the age of 18 from harmful applications of transgender ideology. Tennessee Senate Bill 1 forbids gender transition procedures on minors, while Tennessee Senate Bill 3 forbids drag performances with minors present.
SB 1 forbids “a healthcare professional, establishment, or facility” from “surgically removing, modifying, altering, or entering into tissues, cavities, or organs” of a minor or “prescribing, administering, or dispensing any drug or device” to a minor “for the purpose of: (1) Enabling a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex; or (2) Treating purported discomfort or distress from a discordance between the minor’s sex and asserted identity.” It may be enforced by private action, licensing boards, and the state’s attorney general and reporter. It contains an exception for gender transition procedures initiated before the bill’s effective date of July 1.
The act replaces a much briefer ban on gender transition procedures for minors passed through the Tennessee legislature in 2021. In October 2022, conservative activists exposed Vanderbilt University for performing gender transition procedures on minors.
SB 1 sailed through both legislative chambers with the sponsorship of both majority leaders. After the Senate passed the bill 26-6 on February 13, the House substituted it for an identical bill, labeled HB 1, and passed it 77-16 on February 23. Three House Democrats joined Republicans in voting to pass the bill. The Tennessee ACLU intends to file a lawsuit to block the bill’s implementation.
SB 3 prohibits “an adult cabaret performance (A) On public property; or (B) In a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.” It defines such performances to include “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” — commonly known as drag performers. It classifies a first offense as a Class A misdemeanor (up to 11 months, 29 days in prison and/or a $2,500 fine) and a second offense as a Class E felony (up to 6 years in prison and/or a $3,000 fine).
Also sponsored by the Senate majority leaders, SB 3 passed the Senate 26-6 on February 9. The House then substituted it for an identical bill, labeled HB 9, amended it, and passed it 74-19 on February 23. The Senate confirmed the House’s amendments 26-6 on March 2.
Later on March 2, Governor Lee signed both bills into law.
By enacting SB 3, Tennessee becomes the first state in the nation to prohibit drag shows where minors are present.
California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) quickly condemned Tennessee’s ban on minor-oriented drag shows. “Tennessee has the 8th highest murder rate in the nation. It ranks 44th among states for health outcomes. And this is what the Governor is focused on.” The comments on his tweet have been overwhelmingly negative, with users wondering why he was focused on legislation passed by other states instead of slowing the mass exodus from his own. Other users noted that Newsom actively promotes policies to abort or groom children but not to shield them from age-inappropriate material.
Twitter users “added context” to the AP “breaking news” headline retweeted by Newsom, which stated only, “Tennessee restricts drag performances,” leaving out the “for minors” part. The context explained, “The bill restricts ‘drag shows’ from being performed in locations where minors may be present. It does not restrict performances from being done in any location where the audience would be entirely made of adults.”
By enacting SB 1, Tennessee becomes the fourth state in the 2023 legislative session to enact legislation protecting minors from gender transition procedures. Utah enacted a bill with “massive loopholes” on January 28. South Dakota enacted a stronger bill on February 13. Mississippi enacted a robust bill with much fanfare on February 28. Without legislative action, Florida licensing boards adopted similar prohibitions on providing gender transition procedures to minors on February 10. Arkansas (2021) and Alabama (2022) previously enacted bills that are currently enjoined by courts.
Similar bills in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and West Virginia have already passed one legislative chamber.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.