This year, Tennessee Pride organizers must meet a new deadline. The case against the restrictive drag law is expected to be decided by a judge just as Pride festivals are starting.
We travel to Tennessee, one of a handful of states that this year passed legislation to restrict drag performances. The law in Tennessee is currently being litigated, and a decision is anticipated soon. However, it comes at an awkward time for state festival organizers who are preparing events for Pride Month, which begins tomorrow. Marianna Bacallao of WPLN has more.
By phone, Marianna Bacallo: Phyllis Feathers, a drag queen, tells an unusual fairy tale to the audience on a dim stage.
(Short clip OF Filed RECORDING)
PHYLLIS Plumes: In the land of Tennessee, an evil spell known as Senate Bill No was cast. 3.
BACALLAO: Despite the fact that drag is not mentioned anywhere in Senate Bill 3, the law has been referred to as a drag ban. In its current form, it refers to drag performers as male or female impersonators and prohibits “adult cabaret.” The restriction on drag was scheduled to take effect on April 1 in Tennessee. That was going to make it hard for Phyllis Feathers to perform. She’s an individual from Companions of George’s, an LGBTQ theater charity that performs for all ages and the offended parties for the situation against the state’s enemy of drag regulation. She wouldn’t have been able to perform like the one in this video if the law hadn’t been temporarily blocked by a judge.
(Audio clip from an archived recording) FEATHERS: It doesn’t matter that Shakespeare created the entire mess. It’s horrible to see a man or woman in a beautiful dress or a woman in pants.
BACALLAO: However, the judge is anticipated to issue a final ruling in the case at the beginning of June. Pride organizations all over Tennessee are now in a precarious position as a result. Nashville Pride president Mac Huffington has been a member of the organization for much longer than she would like to admit publicly. Additionally, this is the first pride in which she was required to plan without a celebration pillar.
Mac Humphrey: We simply needed to ensure that we were going to be presenting a legal, you know, festival because the law was written in such a hazy manner.
BACALLAO: Melissa Stewart asserts that the law’s ambiguity is exactly what makes it so dangerous. Friends of George’s is using her civil rights firm to challenge the law. She claims that individual police officers are responsible for enforcement. But even in the event that the case is dismissed… MELISSA STEWART: The mischief is as of now finished. You put anyone in Shelby County jail in full drag, and I can’t promise that they will survive.
BACALLAO: Stewart asserts that law enforcement has a poor history of dealing with the LGBTQ community.
STEWART: Queer rights’ history is one of surveillance, raids, and arrests, and this law aims to regress that movement 60 years.
BACALLAO: In the state’s queer communities leading up to Pride, the fear is palpable. Outside of the LGBTQ events in Nashville, metal detectors have been installed. Micah Winter, a cross-dresser with Companions of George’s, says they needed to increment security before their Drag Rocks occasion.
WINTER MICHAH: A legitimate new fear has emerged, and it has nothing to do with litigation. It concerns bodily harm.
BACALLAO: Winter will still perform at Memphis Pride this year, despite the danger.
RODLEY, VANESSA: I am aware that we are all afraid, and that we are all afraid to be outside. However, in order to be present, we need to be visible.
BACALLAO: That is Memphis Pride President Vanessa Rodley. She claims that finding sponsors and drag performers has been challenging.
RODLEY: Also, without the assets, you – how might you give the security or the place of refuge you want to, isn’t that so? As a result, it has become a significant obstacle this year and a struggle where we have never struggled.
BACALLAO: The drag queens will fight until the end. Here’s Phyllis Quills again on the stage at Companions of George’s.
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FEATHERS: It irritates me. Do you know how frantic it makes me? It absolutely irritates me.