Tennessee lawmakers Thursday passed a bill that bans gender-affirming medical care for minors under 18 and a bill that bans “adult cabaret performances” in public places. The bills now heads to Governor Bill Lee for his signature. LGBTQ advocates strongly opposed the bills, saying they unfairly target transgender children seeking necessary medical care and violate free expression by banning drag performances.
The gender-affirming care ban prevents any healthcare provider from providing treatment to minors under 18 that impacts their hormones or changes their physical appearance. The bill blocks transgender youth from accessing care that helps them safely transition. Major medical organizations like the American Medical Association support gender-affirming care and have previously expressed their opposition to legislation that bans it. “The AMA opposes the dangerous intrusion of government into the practice of medicine and the criminalization of health care decision-making,” said an AMA Board Member in a past statement from the group. “Gender-affirming care is medically-necessary, evidence-based care that improves the physical and mental health of transgender and gender-diverse people.”
The second bill targets “adult cabaret performance,” which the bill defines to include any male or female impersonator that appeals to “prurient interest”–a term advocates say is ambiguous enough to be interpreted broadly. Anything deemed an “adult cabaret performance” will not be permitted in public places or anywhere a minor could potentially see the performance. Legal and community advocates have warned that this amounts to criminalization of drag performance, with Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legal Director Sarah Warbelow saying the bill does “nothing but spread hate, misinformation, and extremism. Drag is a longstanding, celebratory form of entertainment and a meaningful source of employment for many across the state.”
Drag queens themselves have also been vocal, with prominent drag queens from Tennessee publicly expressing their opposition and warning that the bill would ban public pride. “This is an attempt to erase drag in Tennessee,” Memphis drag queen Bella DuBalle in a video. “This will make public Pride illegal this year.”
In a press release from the HRC, Warbelow said:
Rather than focus on actual policy issues facing Tennesseans, politicians would rather spend their time and effort misconstruing age-appropriate performances at a library to pass as many anti-LGBTQ+ bills as they can. Dangerous rhetoric like this has real consequences – prejudiced inspired bills only rile up an extremist base and normalize violence against the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender and nonbinary people.
Both the bills come as international experts are expressing concern about the erosion of LGBTQ rights in the US. Conservative states legislatures are increasingly targeting the LGBTQ community. HRC reported in its release that 29 anti-LGBTQ bills were passed in 2022 and over 300 were introduced. So far in 2023, 340 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced, with over 150 specifically targeting transgender people. The LGBTQ community is also facing increased violence, such as the Club Q shooting in November 2022.
Still, the LGBTQ community in Tennessee was proud and defiant as the bills made their way through the legislature. “I might need help with my legal fees because I’m not stopping,” said Bella DuBalle. “We are queer people, we are strong, we will rise.”