Actors’ Equity Association has filed an amicus brief in Tennessee opposing that state’s new law – the first in the nation – intended to limit or ban some drag shows.
In a brief filed this week, Equity argues that the Tennessee law is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, covers a wide range of live theatrical performances in which Equity members perform and will deter the expression of protected speech in Tennessee.
Equity’s amicus brief supports the legal efforts of the Memphis-based theater company Friends of George’s. The theater company has produced original, drag-centric performances, comedy sketches, and plays since 2011, and has filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District calling the legislation a “bigoted antidrag law.”
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The law, which bans “adult cabaret entertainment” on public property or in locations where it could be viewed by a minor, was approved by the state’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, last month. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Tennessee, citing First Amendment issues, temporarily blocked the implementation of the law.
In a statement today, Equity president Kate Shindle said, “News flash to the Tennessee legislature: drag performance is not inherently ‘prurient.’ Have they ever heard of Shakespeare? The Ancient Greeks? Live theatre has always had male actors (in drag!) playing female roles, and vice versa.”
Shindle said the law is “not just an unconstitutional attack on drag performances and the LGBTQ+ community; it is an attack on the live arts and free expression.”
She continued, “It is also quite clearly part of a much broader campaign in which Republican legislators use transgender/non-conforming human beings as political footballs, which is as cynical as it gets, but at least perhaps a metaphor they will understand. Our members want to work in Tennessee, but they want to feel safe in their workplaces. This should not be an impossible choice. Tennessee’s billion-dollar arts and culture sector is being put at risk by these endless hateful attacks, and this unconstitutional law should never be allowed to go into effect.”
Equity, citing the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts, said the nonprofit arts and culture sector is a $1.17 billion industry in the State of Tennessee that supports 38,482 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $135.9 million in local and state government revenue. The industry, Equity says, generates another $700 million in additional spending by audiences, “economic activity that pumps critical money into local businesses like restaurants, child care providers, parking garages and hotels, among others.”
Commonly known as the Tennessee drag ban, the legislation defines “adult cabaret performance” as “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators in presence of minors.” Among other criticisms, opponents say the vague wording leaves open the possibility that theater works like Rent, Kinky Boots and Mrs. Doubtfire could fall under the ban.
The law has come under fire from various show business personalities and groups, including RuPaul, whose RuPaul’s Drag Race is a long-running television franchise. In an Instagram post announcing the support of RuPaul’s Drag Race, MTV and producer World of Wonder for the ACLU’s “Drag Defense Fund,” RuPaul called the Tennessee law “a classic distraction technique.”
“Bullies are incompetent at solving real issues,” RuPaul said, adding, “Register to vote so we can get these stunt queens out of office and put some smart people with real solutions into government.”
A post shared by RuPaul (@rupaulofficial)
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