MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) – A federal judge has ruled that Tennessee’s restrictions on drag performances is unconstitutional after a Memphis organization challenged the law, according to court documents. This comes after Friends of George’s, an LGBTQ theatre company in Memphis, filed a lawsuit after the bill was signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee on March 2.
The bill did not explicitly call out “drag shows” in its language, but changed the definition of “adult cabaret” in Tennessee’s law to include “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors,” with “male or female impersonators” falling under the category of “adult cabaret” among topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, and strippers.
Before the law was set to go into effect in April, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the law. At the time, the judge agreed with Friends of George’s, finding it was “likely both vague and overly broad.”
U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, again called the law “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” in his ruling on Friday.
“There is no question that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. But there is a difference between material that is ‘obscene’ in the vernacular, and material that is ‘obscene’ under the law,” Parker said.
“Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” he said. Parker also used the example of a female performer wearing an Elvis Presley costume and mimicking the iconic musician, saying she could be at risk of punishment under the law because she would be considered a “male impersonator.”
Friends of George’s celebrated Friday’s ruling on Saturday morning, stating in a social media post, “WE WON! Judge Parker has declared Tennessee’s anti-drag law unconstitutional! Friends of George’s would like to thank Brice Timmons and Melissa Stewart of Donati Law and all who have stood by us during this fight!”
Mid-South Pride, an LGBTQ non-profit in the Memphis area, said in a statement that the ruling “sends a powerful message” and “stands as a victory for those who dare to be different, challenge the status quo, and, most importantly, dare to be themselves.”
This is not the first lawsuit to challenge laws targeting LGBTQ people in the state. Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors earlier this year. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state in April.
The federal judge’s decision can be read in full at WREG.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.