A drag performer entertains a full house in a Nashville club. A law banning public drag performances was struck down on June 3, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed a lawsuit Wednesday to block enforcement of the Adult Entertainment Act, which critics have called a ban on drag shows.
The ACLU filed its suit on behalf of organizers with Blount County Pride after the local district attorney sent the group a letter warning them he planned to enforce the act at an event scheduled for Sept. 2.
“Threatening to enforce this unconstitutional law amounts to a harmful attempt to remove LGBTQ people from public life, which is simply unacceptable,” said Stella Yarbrough, the ACLU-TN legal director, in a statement.
Judge Tommy Parker, a Trump-appointed federal judge in the Western District of Tennessee, declared the law unconstitutional in April because it conflicted with the First Amendment right to free speech.
But, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti has advised district attorneys across the state that the federal court decision only applied in the Memphis area.
“My legal analysis leads to me to concur with the state attorney general, both as to the constitutionality of (Adult Entertainment Act) as well as the applicability,” said Ryan Desmond, the Blount County District Attorney, in his letter to pride organizers. “Violations of the (Adult Entertainment Act) can and will be prosecuted by my office.”
Tennessee Republican lawmakers passed the Adult Entertainment Act during their legislative session earlier this year.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, sponsored the legislation.
The origins of the law trace back to Todd, who filed a lawsuit to try and stop a pride event in Jackson in 2022.
Blount County DA’s letter to pride organizersBlount Co. DA letter to Pride event
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.