Tennessee might ban public drag shows. Here’s how we got here.


For Veronika Electronika, a Tennessee bill that could ban public drag shows not only threatens him as a drag queen, but also as a small business owner of Performance Studio Cosmetics. (Photo provided by Veronika Electronika)

Story by Stephanie Hall | Contributing Writer

A bill that would criminalize drag shows in public areas was introduced in the Tennessee state senate on Nov. 9. State Sen. Jack Johnson’s , R-Brentwood, bill would expand the definition of “adult cabaret performances” to include drag and would outlaw such performances on public property.

While the legislation includes restrictions on performers like exotic dancers and strippers, it also includes “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient.” 

The bill’s introduction comes on the heels of a number of controversial drag shows that took place in Tennessee this year.

Former congressional candidate Robby Starbuck posted a video to Twitter depicting a drag show from Murfreesboro’s BoroPride festival in September. In the video, a drag queen appears to dance with children in the audience. Murfreesboro City Manager Craig Tindall said he would effectively ban future BoroPride events in response.

At Tennessee Technological University, a Twitter video of an on-campus drag show circulated by Starbuck’s wife generated controversy. 

“I do not feel the activites in the video represent Tech’s values, and I do not condone explicit activity where minors are present,” Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham said.The university temporarily banned drag shows but were met with protests by students and faculty, according to a WKRN report.

While drag shows aren’t inherently sexual, as drag queens like Veronika Electronika will simply dress as famous celebrities, recent events have caused major backlash against drag shows. (Photo provided by Veronika Electronika)

Similar concerns were raised about Tennesee’s Jackson Pride event in October, which led to its drag show being age-restricted, according to a report from The Tennesseean.

“There have been several reports of controversial drag shows in Tennessee where children were present,” Johnson said. “Many Tennesseans were concerned and had questions about the legality of certain sexually explicit performances. This bill clarifies the law so that it spells out what performances are not appropriate for children to be present at.”

Drag is the act of dressing in elaborate costumes and make-up to impersonate a different gender. It can also involve lip-syncing and dancing, along with skits and comedy shows. It’s extremely popular in the LGBTQ community, as it’s a way for many to dress in gender non-conforming clothes. 

While drag has been around for hundreds of years, drag shows have become more mainstream with shows like “Ru Paul’s Drag Race. “Drag brunches” and “drag story time” events have also become popular variations of drag shows.

Steve Ramo, also known as Veronika Electronika,  has been working as a drag queen for about 20 years in Nashville. While it’s concerning to him and other drag performers, he doesn’t foresee the bill in its current form passing. 

“It seems very loosely worded,” Ramo said. “That’s not to say I’m not concerned about it, because I am. However, the legislation, as it’s written, is very sensationalistic. I see it more as a conservative talking point to raise money for election.”

While the bill itself currently wouldn’t ban drag shows or drag clubs, it could significantly affect future public pride events. Should the bill pass into law, it would not go into effect until July 1, 2023, one week after the planned dates for the Nashville Pride festival.

To contact News Editor Matthew Giffin and Assistant News Editor Kailee Shores, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

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