Metro Atlanta reacts after federal judge rules Tennessee drag law unconstitutional

Metro Atlanta reacts after federal judge rules Tennessee drag law unconstitutional
Published: Jun. 4, 2023 at 11:01 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 4, 2023 at 11:13 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - People are reacting to a federal judge’s decision, that struck down a Tennessee law that would have outlawed men dressing like women in drag shows. A Trump-nominated judge called the law too vague and too broad.

Atlanta has been a center of drag show culture since as far back as the 60s, when police raided the Ansley Mini Cinema, reportedly arresting drag queens, gay men, and lesbians.  The culture then flourished again in midtown in the 80s.

“We’re going to defend our rights for our own speech and I’m not a drag queen,” said Anna Foote. “I hung out with Ru Paul in the 80s, so it’s not new and it’s never been anything that has been a danger or a problem to anybody,” she said. “Why now, does it become an issue? Why now is it spreading on the level it is,” Foote said.

Foote has concerns about anti-drag bills moving to other states, especially after hearing about the law in Tennessee.

“Tennessee has a breather while this goes through the process, but there are so many states where this is happening that I feel great for Tennessee, but it’s happening way too much in way too many states,” Foote said.

“Like this can’t be happening at this level with so many states moving in a direction so painful, and it was just another one of those moments where I thought, okay, we’re going to be in a place this is going to have to be fought on so many different fronts,” she said.

The bill would restrict drag shows from happening in public or in front of kids. The law, which could now face a likely appeal to a higher court, would ban drag shows from happening 1,000 feet from schools, public parks, or places of worship.

“I was just in Tennessee two weeks ago and met with one of the drag queens that have a show,” Foote said “I mean, she’s afraid to go from her car in full drag into her own office, into her own business because she’s afraid that if she gets seen between the two places, she’ll be arrested and that’s craziness,” she added.

Alexander Volokh, a law professor at Emory Law School spoke with Atlanta News First about the ruling on Sunday.

“I thought that the law basically had two main problems, one of them is that it discriminates based on different kinds of content because it has a special category for male and female impersonators. So, if I’m a man, and I’m performing in some theater, how do you know whether it’s legal or illegal? You have to look at whether I am playing a man or playing a woman,” Volokh, said. “And in the first amendment that kind of discrimination is very disfavored,” he said.

“The other aspect of the law is it’s all about supposedly protecting children, but the Supreme Court has been clear that you can protect children, but you shouldn’t go so far overboard that you obsessively restrict the rights of adults,” Volokh said.

We asked Volokh what this could mean for Georgia.

“I think what a political movement does in one state, they try to replicate in other states if it works. o now that this law has been struck down, of course, we will see what happens on appeal, but it is probably less likely to be proposed in other places,” Volokh said.

Foote is concerned for friends who participate in drag shows.

“I’m very concerned. This is part of the Bible Belt. Georgia’s part of the Bible Belt,” Foote said. “I still believe that there’s a lot of influence in the Governor’s Office and in the House of Representatives that is disproportionally coming from counties in the south, in South Georgia and rural counties that make laws that impact the whole state,” Foote said.

She said she knows the fight is far from over here and in Tennessee.

“it’s a small win. It’s like the small wins that are happening with abortion rights. It’s going to have to be carved away a little bit at a time, but it helps give momentum to the movement. It helps spark people to say okay, it is possible to fight this. I don’t have to succumb to the pain and the depression that comes from feeling like I’m already marginalized and now they’re actually going to actually criminalize me,” Foote said.

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, a Republican and one of the law’s main sponsors, said he was disappointed with the ruling -- and hopes the state’s attorney general will appeal it.