Tennessee Governor Signs 'Anti-Drag' Bill

Bill Lee has his own drag controversy
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 28, 2023 11:20 AM CST
Updated Mar 3, 2023 12:30 AM CST
Governor Who Wants Anti-Drag Law Queried on High School Pic
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Feb. 6 in Nashville.   (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
UPDATE Mar 3, 2023 12:30 AM CST

As promised, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday signed what's being referred to as an "anti-drag" bill, though the word "drag" does not actually appear in the legislation, the AP reports. The new law categorizes "male or female impersonators" as "adult" performers, meaning they cannot perform anywhere children might see them. It's meant to target things like "drag queen story hour," events featuring drag queens reading books to kids. It goes into effect July 1.

Feb 28, 2023 11:20 AM CST

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has already taken heat for dressing as a Confederate soldier during his college days. Now, a high school yearbook photo has emerged showing him dressed as a woman—a fact that's drawing cries of hypocrisy from critics, as Lee is poised to sign an anti-drag show bill in his state. Per the Tennessean, the legislation that Lee says he'll approve once it hits his desk bans "adult-oriented entertainment" considered "harmful to minors"—including "male or female impersonators"—from public places or venues where kids might be able to see it. But a 1977 yearbook pic from a Williamson County high school that found its way onto social media is now making the rounds, and it prompted an annoyed response from Lee.

"What a ridiculous, ridiculous question that is," Lee answered a reporter Monday at a presser when asked if he "remembered dressing in drag in 1977," per WZTV. Lee went on to slam the reporter for "conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious subject." The photo shows the person said to be Lee decked out in a cheerleader's outfit (complete with miniskirt), wig, and pearl necklace, accompanied by what appear to be two girls dressed in men's suits, reports NBC News. Lee didn't confirm or deny it was him in the photo, nor did his press secretary, who said in a statement that "any attempt to conflate this serious issue [of drag performances] with lighthearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families."

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But a rep from Franklin High School tells NBC—which notes "the event photographed in the yearbook would meet most definitions of 'drag'"—that the photo is indeed from the school's 1977 yearbook, and that the person in it "appears to be Bill Lee," who attended that school. "He's saying, 'It's OK for straight people to do it, but not the gay community,'" a longtime Nashville drag performer tells the news outlet. Once the anti-drag bill—which has passed both the state's House and Senate—is signed and goes into effect, those who breach it would face a misdemeanor on the first offense, and a felony on the second. Tennessee would be the first state to pass such a law, though at least a dozen other states are considering similar legislation, per an NBC analysis. (Read more Bill Lee stories.)

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