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Tennessee Governor Bill Lee Should Veto Bill Targeting Drag Shows

Blog Advocacy Press Release General News Article Chamber News Release

A Letter from the Tennessee Pride Chamber, Supporting Member & Allied Businesses

Below is the full text of a letter that ran in The Tennessean on Friday, February 24, 2023 asking Governor Lee to veto SB3/HB9, known as the Drag Felony Bill. 

February 24, 2023

The Honorable Governor Bill Lee

Governor of Tennessee

State Capital, First Floor

Nashville, TN 37243


Governor Lee,

We are writing today to ask you to veto SB0003/HB0009. The bill is a direct attack on drag performers and the LGBTQ+ community with the potential for unintended consequences impacting all performers and creating undue burdens on artists and businesses.

As the Tennessee Pride Chamber, we represent hundreds of corporations, small businesses, and individual LGBTQ+ professionals throughout Tennessee. We work to protect the more than 133,000 LGBTQ+ workers in Tennessee, making up 4% of the state’s work force. We also advocate for our allies, who understand that an open and welcoming business climate is a successful business climate. We send this letter on behalf of them all.

There has been a lot of misinformation about these bills, and the role drag performers have in our community. Drag is an artform with a long history, dating back thousands of years. It is a form of both artistic expression and political protest protected by the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions. Drag is no different in its history than dressing up for masquerade balls or Halloween. The ability to take on the identity of another is as old as Shakespeare and as modern as Tom Hanks and Tennessee’s enormously successful Pride events. Combined with the joyous and celebratory experience of their performances, drag performers are cherished leaders and icons of our communities. Attacks on them are attacks on our communities’ self-identity.

Their performances use costumes, make up, dancing and lip synching to create an over-the-top, campy, or glamorous show, which can be a fun experience for people of all ages and backgrounds. Drag is not adult entertainment. It is featured in the state’s largest hotels, bars, and music venues—including all of Nashville’s most iconic and revered venues.

It is telling that throughout the legislative process, supporters identified no instance in Tennessee of conduct that violated the wide bans SB0003/HB0009 propose to impose. That is because drag is not, and never has been adult entertainment, that is, entertainment considered obscene under Tennessee law. The evidence of this is that no drag performer, or business sponsoring a drag performance, has ever been charged under the state’s long-standing obscenity laws. SB0003/HB0009 threaten to change that by making drag the only art form that can get you imprisoned.

Fortunately, Tennessee has laws governing obscenity and adult entertainment. Local governments have established regulatory boards to license and regulate establishments offering adult entertainment. We agree there are reasonable discussions to be had about what is appropriate for children to see—but we trust parents and the existing laws to govern what their children can view.

Finally, our member and allied businesses do not want our state to waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal fees defending a bill that is so vague as to render it unconstitutional. This bill is drafted in such a broad way that it either restates existing law, in which case it does nothing, or it’s so vague that it’s designed to limit speech and artistic expression without anyone ever getting prosecuted. One is unfair to your constituents, and the other is unfair to the state’s LGBTQ+ community, who are also your constituents.

SB0003/HB0009 do not stand for the Tennessee all of us know and love. Tennesseans open our doors to the world’s most high-profile music, sports, and theater events. This bill places those events at risk. Tourism, which contributes significantly to our state’s growth and well-being, may well suffer from boycotts disproportionately affecting members of our community who work in Tennessee’s restaurants, arts, and hospitality industries. Corporations will not continue to expand or relocate here if their employees—and their recruits—don’t feel safe or welcomed in Tennessee.

SB0003/HB0009 is a bad bill. It is bad for our economy. It is bad for our soul. We urge you to veto it.


Tennessee Pride Chamber &

Supporting Member and Allied Businesses

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