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Gov. Bill Lee signs into Tennessee law a ban on drag shows. Performers say it’s too subjective.

Gov. Bill Lee has signed a bill banning drag shows in public spaces, a measure that will likely force drag shows underground in Tennessee.

Lee signed the measure Thursday afternoon, just hours after it passed in the Senate. Lee also signed a measure banning gender-affirming medical care for trans youth.

Opponents say the drag ban is too subjective. The measure comes as a yearbook photo of the Republican governor in drag recently surfaced on social media.

Lee says there’s a big difference between him wearing a dress at a high school football game and drag queens wearing a dress on stage. Drag performer Hella Skeleton says the line is not clear.

“For Bill Lee to say, ‘You know, that was lighthearted when I did it,’ that is absolutely absurd when a lot of drag is extremely lighthearted,” Skeleton tellsThis is Nashville. “Apparently when straight men dress up badly in drag, that’s OK. But when gay and queer and trans people do it, that’s not OK.”

An online campaign to put the picture of Lee in drag on a billboard has raised nearly $50,000.

“And while I love the attention that that’s getting, that billboard isn’t going to help a drag queen that gets arrested,” Skeleton says. “That billboard isn’t going to help a trans kid that needs access to health care. I would love to see that money actually go back into the queer and trans community.”

The drag show measure was quietly amended in January to make the bill’s effective date April 1. Typically, bills go into effect either when they are signed by the governor or on July 1. The amendment raised alarm bells among opponents who noted that the soon-to-be law would kick in just before Pride month in June — effectively shutting down festivals.

Marianna Bacallao is a Cuban American journalist at WPLN and the new afternoon host for Nashville Public Radio. Before coming to Nashville, she was the morning host and general assignment reporter for WVIK Quad Cities NPR, where she hosted through a record-breaking wind storm that caused statewide power outages. A Georgia native, she was a contributor to Georgia Public Broadcasting during her undergrad years and served as editor-in-chief for Mercer University’s student newspaper.
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