Tennessee Town Bans Drag Shows As “Sexually Oriented Business”

Thankfully, the ACLU is not having it.

Portland, Tennessee is continuing its quest to ban drag shows from taking place in the small town, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is now fighting back.

The group sent a letter to town officials last week that demands the city either drop its recent ordinance that prohibits drag shows or else be prepared to take the issue to court.

In September, city council members attempted to outlaw drag with a proposed ordinance that amended the definition of “adult cabaret” to include “male or female impersonators” in order to keep the acts out of local businesses.

The ordinance was killed earlier this month, but a new one has now replaced it that is attempting to regulate “sexually oriented businesses” instead.

According to the ACLU, the second ordinance wants to define all male and female impersonation as erotic in order to push it under the label of adult entertainment, thereby ensuring drag performances can not take place.

The ACLU issued a press release that calls the new ordinance out for continuing “to raise serious First Amendment freedom of speech concerns.”

“The new ordinance also tries to use ’secondary effects’ of adult-oriented businesses, such as an impact on property values in the area, to justify regulating drag performances,” the statement reads. “However, not one of the studies cited by the board of aldermen connects the type of performance that Elite produces to any secondary effect that would justify such regulation.”

Previous court rulings declared that a business can only be considered an adult cabaret if both erotic entertainment is the establishment’s principal focus and if the performers expose certain restricted body parts. The ACLU is arguing that neither of these apply to the shows that were being carried out by Elite Star Productions, the organization responsible for putting on recent drag shows featuring fully-clothed performers showcasing musical numbers.

“We hope that the board of aldermen realizes that just because they may not like a particular kind of speech does not mean that they can shut it down,” ACLU-TN staff attorney Mandy Strickland Floyd said in a statement. “The First Amendment protects our clients’ speech and expression. If the city fails to recognize this, we’ll see them in court.”

Adam Salandra is a writer, performer and host in Los Angeles. When he's not covering the latest in pop culture, you can find him playing with his French Bulldog puppy or hovering over the table of food at any social gathering.
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