Tenn. Gov. Bill Lee calls photo of him in 'drag' a 'light-hearted school tradition'

Tenn. Gov. Bill Lee in drag
Tenn. Gov. Bill Lee in drag second from the left.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has said that he will consider signing a bill making drag and transgender people who appear in public where minors "could" be present a felony.

SB 3/HB 9 makes it a felony for those who "provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration."

What is "prurient interest"? It is material "having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts." as discussed in Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957)

The problem is a picture has emerged of Lee performing in drag publicly as a high school student during his senior year at Franklin High, Tenn. This image can be found in his yearbook 1977, on page 165.

I graduated about that time and I recall those events. They were held yearly at my high school. I found them disgusting as the spectacle denigrated femininity, and explicitly portrayed women as defenseless sexual toys while legitimizing white supremacy and toxic masculinity. (Lee appeared in a Confederate Uniform but has since called that a mistake)

Would Lee's drag performance appeal to prurient interests of his fellow minor high school students? I wasn't there, but really, that was what it was all about.

The New Republic reports that House Bill 9 is headed to Governor Bill Lee, who has said he will decide whether to sign the bill once it reaches his desk. If he does, the measure will go into effect on April 1, two months ahead of Pride Month. The bill bans “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to prurient interest,” meaning of a sexual nature, either in public or if there is a minor present. The language is vague and makes no distinction between drag performers and transgender people.

When H.B. 9 was first introduced in November 2022, the ACLU of Tennessee noted that “dance, fashion, and music—essential components of a drag performance—are all protected by the First Amendment. Yet, these laws are written so broadly and vaguely that they would allow government officials to censor performers based on their own subjective viewpoints of what they deem appropriate on any given day.”

“So, let’s call this what it is—a malicious attempt to remove LGBTQ people from public life,” the group said in a statement.

The bill’s vagueness could also affect Pride celebrations, which last for the month of June. Drag performers or trans people appearing in public could be charged with felonies simply for existing.


Demand the NYT cease lying about trans people

Why I Signed the New York Times Letter (And You Should, Too)

If you care about journalism, if you care about fairness, and you care about the truth, it should matter to you that "the paper of record" is constantly lying about trans people.


Trans activist Mara Glubka transcribed these important and brilliant words that were posted on Twitter 2 days ago by ACLU attorney Chase Strangio:

"In 2016 I began lobbying against anti-trans bills in state legislatures. At the time we were fighting back against the proliferation of the anti-trans bathroom bill and the false and weaponized narrative that trans people posed a threat to women and children in bathrooms.

In the years that followed, those pushing these bills (and ballot initiatives) admitted that the "safety" narrative fueling the bills in public discourse was entirely fabricated (which... of course it was). They shifted to focusing on privacy.

By shifting from "safety" to "privacy" the rhetoric fueling anti-trans bills placed the "problem" squarely on the body and existence of trans people. It was not something we *did* but just who we are and how we look that was the problem.

After Bostock and Biden's election, the escalation of attacks was swift. It began with the discourse around sports and quickly moved to healthcare. Fueled by global movements combating "gender ideology" (read: marshaling in fascism), this rhetoric took hold even more.

What started as "we just have concerns about competitive advantages in sports" quickly morphed into "aren't there really too many trans people and shouldn't we cut off the pathway from trans adolescence to trans adulthood".

From the pages of the New York Times to the legislative hearings across the country to kitchen table conversations - trans people became the endless fixation of those looking for a place for their fear about a changing world of increasing possibility.

Since at least 2016, I and many others have been raising the alarms about where this was all heading. It was never about bathrooms or sports or even healthcare. It is about what we represent - possibility outside of binaries, outside of notions of fixedness and essentialism.

If structures of power are dependent on us believing in the limits of what is possible - trans people represent an inherent threat to power.

We represent a freedom and possibility that is always a threat to the status quo.

I have been deep in this work for a long time but I will confess that I am surprised and horrified at where we find ourselves now in 2023. The sheer volume of bills and the prioritization of them. The coverage fixation at the Times and elsewhere.

Our society has accepted as legitimate our loss of healthcare, our frequent victimization, our death. As many as 14 States could ban healthcare for trans adolescents by mid-year. Almost half the country bands trans girls from sports.

If there is a "debate" about us among those in power - we are not a part of it. We are a spectacle for your consumption. That said we cannot be made on trans. There is no policy imperative that can change the fact of our existence. We are here as we always have been.

Governors Noem, Abbott, DeSantis, Cox, Hutchinson, Ivey. You may think you can sign off on our demise but we will rise stronger. To everyone who thinks we are worthy of concern but not agency, of your skepticism but not your respect, you write us off at your own peril.

None of this starts or ends with us.

Two governors have signed off on taking away our healthcare this session and it is not yet mid-February.

More of this is coming.

And you can sit by and watch or you can realize your freedom is tied up with ours."