Can professional wrestling, a Miley Cyrus concert or a drag party bus be classified as harmful to minors?
That was the question at a legislative subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, when lawmakers finally proposed a bill to criminalize some “adult” entertainment performances. The bill was proposed by state representatives who had previously characterized drag shows as “child abuse.”
Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, filed HB 09, following the controversy in Jackson over plans for “family friendly” drag shows. Todd and a group of religious leaders sought court action to stop the event, though eventually negotiations with event organizers resulted in a compromise to restrict minors from attending.
If approved, the legislation would ban “adult-oriented” performances from public spaces and require age restrictions in private places. Entertainers will be subject to a misdemeanor first offense and a Class E felony on a second offense, which can carry between on and six years in prison.
The bill aims to prevent “adult cabaret” entertainers from performing in public places or anywhere children can watch the show. Legislation defines adult cabaret to include performers such as exotic dancers and “strippers,” but also includes “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to prurient,” or inappropriately sexualized, interests.
On Tuesday, the bill was amended to more clearly define what constitutes harm to a minor, which some opponents say is a subjective term, by tying the bill to Tennessee’s existing obscenity laws.
“This is a common sense, child safety bill,” Todd said.
Republicans and Democrats questioned part of the bill and potential unintended consequences on Tuesday, noting entertainers such as professional wrestlers, NFL cheerleaders and pop stars can include costumes, content and behavior that some may approve and some may find inappropriate.
“I can tell you that people in drag shows have more clothes on, as a rule, than people in wrestling,” Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said in a House subcommittee.
Johnson and Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City, voted against the bill in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Campbell has previously worked as a promoter for professional wrestling events, and said he was concerned about the vagueness of the bill.
“If we’re having a professional wrestling event at a county fair, and some promoter decides to have a bra-and-panties match, is that potentially a crime under this legislation?” Campbell asked.
Senate committee debate
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that the bill’s opponents had misunderstood its intent, and that the law only applied to “sexually explicit entertainment” overtly. This may interest you : NRL cheerleader SLAMS claims the game was “sexualising” and “degrading” women.
“Things that I think there are reasonable people, as defined by the law, who will look and see and think it’s inappropriate,” said Johnson, the sponsor of the Senate. “As with any law that we’re dealing with here, there’s definitely going to be prosecutorial discretion.”
The bill advanced through committee on Tuesday, clearing the way for a full Senate vote. The House version is still awaiting a full committee hearing.
What is drag? As the performance draws political criticism, experts weigh in
Drag performance is a centuries-old practice performed in theaters with more modern roots in the LGBTQ community. A form of gender performance and entertainment, not necessarily including sexual content.
The recent controversy over drag shows in Tennessee shows some opponents see drag performances as inappropriate, sexual or harmful to children. Todd in October told The Tennessean that he had not reached out to organizers or performers about the content of Jackson’s show, despite repeatedly calling it “inappropriate,” “garbage,” and “child abuse.”
Another proposed bill, HB 30, would require “adult cabaret” performers to be licensed by the state board before performing. The bill aims to explicitly define adult cabaret entertainment to include “male or female impersonators” with exotic or topless dancers.
In Chattanooga, controversy swirled after a video of the Pride youth event went viral, where a small child touched the sequined dress of a performer on stage dressed as Ariel from “The Little Mermaid”. A number of residents called on the city council to ban all-ages drag performances before Pride event organizers confirmed that the performers were not drag performers but women who “do princess parties as part of their job,” the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
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