Sunday, June 4, 2023

Even a Trump-Appointed Federal Judge Gets It: Drag Bans Are Wrong (and Unconstitutional)

A federal judge -- one appointed by former President Donald Trump, no less -- has ruled that the state's ban on drag show performances is unconstitutional.

From The Associated Press:

The law is both “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” and encouraged “discriminatory enforcement,” according to the ruling late Friday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump.

“There is no question that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. But there is a difference between material that is ‘obscene’ in the vernacular, and material that is ‘obscene’ under the law,” Parker said.

“Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” he said. 

Similar to other bans happening in conservative parts of the country, the Tennessee law banned "adult cabaret performances" at properties where minors might be present. 

Many drag shows, while they may be suggestive, are not overtly sexual. Parents often bring children to these entertaining performances, which is their right to decide on doing, just as it is other parents' rights to bring their kids to restaurants with scantily-clad servers, many have pointed out. Using another analogy, it's no different than a parent bringing their kid to an R-rated movie (indeed, many drag performances are tamer than that).

This ruling (read it in full here) is probably just the start: as other states and local governments enact unnecessary and bigoted drag bans, more lawsuits are likely to happen, too, finding that these laws violate performers' First Amendment rights.

Notably, although there is a distinction between trans people and drag queens, these bans also target transgender people in deeply negative and concerning ways, affecting their speech rights, too. A Native American Two-Spirit author was banned by her county government from giving a talk at a Montana library last week because of a drag ban, for example. She, too, is contemplating a lawsuit.

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