US federal judge sides with Tennessee Pride festival in challenge to drag ban News
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US federal judge sides with Tennessee Pride festival in challenge to drag ban

US District Court Judge Ronnie Greer issued a temporary restraining order Friday to prevent Blount County, TN District Attorney General Ryan K. Desmond from interfering with the Blount County Pride Festival under Tennessee’s Adult Entertainment Act (AEA). The Blount County Pride Festival was held on Saturday as planned.

The AEA bans “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” in public. Desmond sent a letter to event organizers, local politicians, local law enforcement and owners of facilities booked for use by the festival questioning whether Blount County Pride would violate the AEA. Desmond wrote:

Having received numerous communications from law enforcement, local officials, and concerned citizens, the Blount County District Attorney’s Office is aware of a coming event planned for September 2, 2023 that is marketing itself in a manner which raises concerns that the event may violate certain criminal statutes within the state of Tennessee.

Desmond went on to state that his office believed the recent judicial ruling finding the AEA unconstitutional only applied to Shelby County, Tennessee, and that his office would prosecute festival organizers and attendees if they violated the law.

The organizers of the Blount Pride Festival and drag queen Matthew Lovegood, who performs as Flamy Grant and performed at the festival filed suit against Desmond with the assistance of the ACLU. They claimed that Desmond incorrectly interpreted the ruling against the AEA. The complaint cited federal precedent, arguing that a suit against a state official is akin to a suit against the official’s office and therefore the state itself.

Judge Greer ruled in favor of the Blount Pride Festival organizers and Lovegood, granting a temporary restraining order to stop Desmond from interfering in the festivities. Greer ruled that the plaintiffs met all the requirements for a temporary restraining order as they have standing, are likely to succeed on the merits of the case due to the prior success of challenges to the AEA, there would be “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs first amendment rights if the order were not issued and the order would not pose a risk to the safety of members of the public. Greer concluded writing:

[T]he State should remain free to arrest and prosecute Plaintiffs, on a retrospective basis, if they violate the Act during the festival and ultimately do not prevail on the merits of this suit. The obtainment of a temporary restraining order is therefore not without hazard to Plaintiffs, and the specter of prosecution, which this suit does not necessarily erase, lessens if not eliminates the prospective harm to the State that District Attorney Desmond complains of.

Representative Zoe Zephyr of Montana, the first trans person elected to the Montana House who made headlines after she was barred from the House floor, attended the festival, stating:

The First Amendment rights of individuals wins at the end. We saw that with the drag law in Montana and we saw it here in Tennessee much before the letter this week when someone said the law doesn’t apply to me. And of course when the judge came back said yeah it applies to you too. We get to have our events our, First Amendment rights are protected and we get to celebrate who we are with one another.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for September 8.