MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A federal judge in Tennessee has issued a temporary restraining order against the impending “drag ban” after siding with a Memphis-based LGBTQ theatre group that filed suit against the state.
Friends of George’s filed the lawsuit on March 27 against Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy and the state. U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker issued the temporary injunction after hearing arguments on both sides Thursday.
Parker agreed the law as written is too vague and leaves the door open for differing outcomes based a person’s assessment of what is, and isn’t, obscene. The word “drag” doesn’t appear in the new law.
As written, the law would not have outright banned drag performances in Tennessee, but it deems “male and female impersonators” adult cabaret performers and bans “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors” from taking place on public property and in the presence of minors under 18.
“A law is unconstitutionally vague if individuals of “common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application,” Parker wrote in the 15-page decision.
The order will be in place for at least 14 days, though an extension is possible. The new law was to go into effect Saturday.
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Drag, the suit said, has endless iterations and historical precedence all the way back to ancient Greek theatrical productions or more infamously, plays authored by William Shakespeare that featured only male actors.
The category of performance has been targeted on a whole, the suit argued, even though there are endless iterations of drag performance.
“Drag is not a new art form; nor is it inherently – or even frequently – indecent,” the suit read.
“I have no objection to the temporary restraining order. There has been much concern and confusion about the law from the community. This will allow the court to clarify the scope, application, and constitutionality of the statute. It’s important to understand the scope of this law so that it doesn’t have a harmful effect on constitutionally protected expression,” Mulroy said before Thursday’s hearing.
Before the judge Thursday, plaintiff attorney Brice Timmons emphasized the law’s haziness by utilizing the “Miss Piggy Idol” contest, an annual feature of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
The contest often features male participants dressed as feminine swine and occasionally posing in ways that could be seen as provocative.
Timmons also emphasized that the punitive measures attached to the law – a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and Class E for the second – could strip a citizen of their right to vote, and potentially do so based not on legal precedent, but on case-by-case interpretations of the law.
“We won because this is a bad law” said Mark Campbell, president of the board of Friend’s of George’s. “We look forward to our day in court where the rights for all Tennesseans will be affirmed.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
Micaela Watts is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal and can be reached at email@example.com.