Back when he was elected governor in 2018, some folks thought Tennessee Republican Bill Lee was just another big bid’ness idiot, somebody who would mostly stay focused on that in office. Nobody ever thought that about the Tennessee Legislature. Tennessee’s Republican-controlled Legislature is one of America’s most concentrated collections of white hayseed bigots you’d never leave your dog alone with, much less your child. Just today a Republican state representative is half-assedly trying to walk back remarks where he asked if Tennessee could bring back “hanging from a tree” in death penalty cases.
There is nothing surprising about this. This is what elected Republicans in Tennessee are like.
And Bill Lee wants to let us know he’s just like those Republicans in the Legislature, who have just sent him a bill to ban drag shows, which he plans to sign. All these dumbass white social conservatives (plus a couple of embarrassing socially conservative Black Democrats from Memphis) have been brainwashed by religious Right libel to believe that drag queens “groom” and “sexualize” children. Lee also plans to sign a bill banning gender-affirming care for trans kids.
But wait, who grooms and sexualizes children? Ask the Southern Baptist Convention how many fingers it would take to count up all the pastors and youth leaders in Tennessee and nationwide who have been been accused of sexual abuse. Ask Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis how manysexual abusersof children they’ve harbored in that one megachurch. Ask the Baptists about this youth pastor in Rutherford County. Or this one from Knox County. Ask the Church of Christ about this former youth pastor from Benton County. Ask the conservative Christians about this child rapist pastor from Tipton County. Or this former Clarksville, Tennessee, pastor who was arrested in Michigan for raping teenagers. Or this former pastor from Decatur, Alabama, who also faces charges in Tennessee.
We can go on. You get millions of news results when you Google pastors who have been accused and/or convicted of child sexual abuse. Cross-reference them with Tennessee and, boy howdy it’s still a shitload.
But tell us more about drag queens, Bill Lee and the Tennessee Legislature, you fuckin’ hicks.
And they try to tell stories about drag queens. They have made-up stories and deceptively edited shit they saw on the internet. But they don’t have anything real.
When asked for specific examples of inappropriate drag shows taking place in front of children, Lee did not cite any, only pointing to a nearby school building and saying he was concerned about protecting children.
Of course he didn’t. It’s an imaginary spooky story conservative Christians tell each other, just like the one about litterboxes in elementary schools.
So, the Tennessee bill. The AP notes that Tennessee has moved the fastest to ban drag, as part of its Nazi crusade against anybody who isn’t white, straight, and conservative Christian. You know, because they’re looking out for the kids.
It’s a really stupid, poorly written bill — What? From a Tennessee Republican? PSHAW! — and it’s gonna be a fuckshow to enforce, assuming anybody actually wants to try to enforce it and this law doesn’t set a land speed record for Most Quickly Ignored State Law Ever Made.
Under the Tennessee bill, the words “drag show” are not explicitly stated. Instead, the legislation changes the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee’s law to mean “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.” The bill also says that “male or female impersonators” now fall under adult cabaret among topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers.
The proposal then bans adult cabaret from taking place on public property or any place where minors might be present. It threatens performers with a misdemeanor charge, or a felony if it’s a repeat offense.
We’ve said it a thousand times, but if you think drag is inherently sexual — and a lot of these conservative Christian men do — then that’s about your psychosexual profile, not about the drag show.
Speaking of, a picture has turned up of Bill Lee dressed in drag when he was in high school. Lee says it doesn’t count because it was a “powder puff football game.” His mouthpiece spokesperson said when asked that “[This] bill specifically protects children from obscene, sexualized entertainment, and any attempt to conflate this serious issue with lighthearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families.” Obviously, that’s a rightwing Christian lie, because if rightwing Christians’ mouths are moving, they’re lying.
But these responses should make clear that this bill is intended to directly target LGBTQ+ people. Bill Lee doin’ a “boys bein’ boys wearin’ dresses at the football game” thing in high school? That’s different!
Bill Lee came to Memphis on Wednesday for the opening of a YMCA. At that event, two people who were peacefully protesting this bill were detained and manhandled by the Memphis police, who you’d think would be a little more careful these days about laying their hands on innocent people when cameras are watching.
The Daily Memphian got some choice quotes from Memphis drag queen Bella DuBalle, who was there and was also removed from the event by cops. (She said it got “a bit handsy,” but it was otherwise minor.)
“Bill Lee is a liar and a fascist,” Bella DuBalle shouted through a megaphone as Lee began his remarks. […]
“The bill fails to define what drag is — what a male or female impersonator is,” DuBalle said. “It makes no exception for cosplayers, professional wrestlers, people dressing up on Halloween or most importantly gender nonconforming trans and nonbinary people who are living their daily lives.”
“I want to know. Am I in drag right now? Is this a dress?” she asked of the purple robe she was wearing. “Do I need to put on a wig? Do I need to put on some makeup? Do I need to put on heels? At what point does it become sexual?”
Bella DuBalle is one fun and quotable drag queen. She did an extensive interview for BuzzFeed, which y’all should read. First, though, watch this viral video of her delivering a message about this bill during a drag brunch at the Atomic Rose in Memphis, which is literally “ten feet off of Beale” like the song says:
“The original Pride was a riot and this year we need to remind them that we will fight for our liberation,” Kyle says in the video, which has garnered millions of views across TikTok and Twitter. “We will raise our bricks up high again and let them know that we will not go quietly.”
What? Did Tennessee Republicans think this was going to make the LGBTQ+ people and the drag queens go away? Bless their hearts.
On April 1, the day the ban is set to go into effect, the Atomic Rose will host its Brick Ball, a drag show to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion. [Slade Kyle, the person who Bella DuBalle is when they are not performing] said they are inspired by trans advocates like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans women who are largely credited for throwing the first brick as police raided the New York gay bar in the 1970s.
“It’s a reminder that we will fight for our freedom, if necessary. It’s not a threat. It’s a promise,” Kyle said. “And I am terrified to have to hold that promise … but we have to fight even if we’re terrified. Nobody wants to have to be the next Marsha P. Johnson.”
So that’s the temperature things are in Tennessee right now, in case you were wonderin’.
We’ll have much more to say about this as time goes on, we reckon. Watch this space.
[AP / Daily Memphian / BuzzFeed]
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