News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tennessee’s drag restrictions are back in court

Drag queen Perplexity performs at a Human Rights Campaign rally in downtown Nashville on March 8, 2023.
Marianna Bacallao
Drag queen Perplexity performs at a Human Rights Campaign rally in downtown Nashville on March 8, 2023.

A Tennessee law restricting drag performances in public spaces is back in court, nearly three months after a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional.

A new lawsuit, filed Wednesday, comes in response to a letter from an East Tennessee district attorney. In it, Blount County DA Ryan Desmond warns a local Pride celebration that his office will prosecute those who violate the law. Desmond cites Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti.

The Adult Entertainment Act, or AEA, was ruled unconstitutional in early June, but Skrmetti has maintained that the AEA remains in effect for the rest of the state. Technically, the judge only blocked the law from being enforced in Memphis and Shelby County. That’s because Gov. Bill Lee and Skrmetti were removed as defendants in the lawsuit, leaving the Shelby County district attorney as the sole defendant.

The judge also declared the law unconstitutional. That gives the rest of the state declaratory relief, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Melissa Stewart.

Stewart has joined with the The ACLU of Tennessee on this current lawsuit to block enforcement in East Tennessee, ahead of the Pride festival on Saturday.

“Drag is an ancient art form, and I have seen how it can help build community, hold space, and connect people,” says Plaintiff Flamy Grant. “I have seen how drag speaks to people who simply want to belong and be loved, making them feel safe and supported. That’s all I want my art to do.”

In a statement to WPLN News, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office says that it is defending the lawsuit on behalf of the state and “will have no further comment.”

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.
Related Content