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Image appearing to show Tennessee governor Bill Lee in drag surfaces as state set to pass anti-drag bill

Bill Lee set to sign bill into law expanding defintion of ‘adult cabaret performance’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 01 March 2023 13:48 GMT
Related video: Drag Queen shows could disappear and become illegal in Tennessee

An image appearing to show Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in drag in 1977 has surfaced as the state looks set to impose a new anti-drag law.

“As Tennessee moves forward to ban drag, enjoy a high school yearbook picture of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in drag (Franklin High yearbook 1977, page 165),” a Reddit user wrote in a post on the subreddit Political Humor, sharing a picture of what seems to be Mr Lee in a photo above the caption “Hard Luck Woman”.

The image was widely shared on social media with users arguing that Republicans are hypocrites on the issue, mentioning that more recent images also depict New York Republican Representative George Santos in drag as the party attempts to utilise the issue in the so-called culture war.

Democrat Christopher Hale wrote on Twitter: “Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is set to sign a bill that bans and criminalizes drag across the Volunteer State. Under this law, Governor Lee himself would face prosecution and jail time for his decision to dress up as a ‘hard luck woman’ in high school. Nice legs though!”

The bill criminalizes the act of taking part in an “adult cabaret performance” or a drag show on public property, particularly in the presence of minors. The bill passed the Tennessee House of Representatives on 23 February.

Mr Lee is expected to sign the bill into law when it arrives at his desk.

An initial violation of the law would lead to a Class A misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 11 months and 29 days in prison in addition to a possible fine of as much as $2,500.

Additional violations would be Class E felonies, leading to up to six years in prison and a $3,000 fine.

The bill would change the laws already on the books concerning adult cabaret performances that govern things such as strip shows to more specifically target drag shows and restrict where such performances can occur.

The definition of “adult cabaret performance” would be expanded to include all kinds of drag shows, according to the International Business Times.

The current law already views “male or female impersonators” as a kind of adult cabaret performance, but the new bill would mean that it would also include “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration”.

It was revealed in 2019 that Mr Lee had appeared in a Confederate uniform in a 1980 yearbook photo at Auburn University, as reported by The Tennessean.

A spokesperson for the governor told The Independent that “the bill specifically protects children from obscene, sexualized entertainment, and any attempt to conflate this serious issue with lighthearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families”.

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