Drag performers are celebrating two victories tonight with the adoption of Ordinance 17-75 that no longer implies that all drag show performances are erotic and subject to regulation like other adult businesses and entertainers. An earlier version of the city's attempt to regulate drag show performances, found in Ordinance 17-59, died in committee on Nov. 6th when the Board of Alderman chose to take no action.
"The previous versions of this Ordinance would have discriminated against the LGBT individuals and drag performers in a manner that would have silenced their First Amendment rights to perform drag in Portland's central downtown district," Attorney Kevin Teets said. "We are thankful that the Board of Alderman listened to our concerns and chose to adopt language that limits the government's ability to regulate drag performances to include only those performances that are erotic in nature. This narrowly tailored language, we believe, will respect the first amendment rights of my clients while also recognizing that not all drag performances are erotic in nature."
The City of Portland first proposed an ordinance to ban drag performances in early September. Since that time, the Tennessee Equality Project has issued statements and letters to the City requesting that the unconstitutional and discriminatory language be removed or a lawsuit seeking damages and an injunction would be filed. The City hired outside legal counsel to advise the Board of Alderman on these issues and the Board and lawyers have worked together in crafting this newest version of the ordinance.
"Hopefully other cities and towns in Tennessee recognize that LGBT individuals have the same first amendment rights as any other citizens in our state and that the will of the majority cannot be used to silence and suppress speech just because it is unpopular," Teets added.
"Fortunately, we did not have to file a lawsuit against Portland. Had they not recognized their mistakes and corrected their course, we would have been fully prepared to litigate this matter to a successful completion and will do the same against any other city or town in Tennessee that takes action which treats members of the LGBT community as anything less than equal members in the community."
Mandy Strickland Floyd, ACLU of Tennessee staff attorney, had the following reaction:
"We are pleased that the ordinance that passed is in line with the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and artistic expression regardless of what someone is wearing. Our clients can now continue performing without government interference. We will be monitoring closely to ensure that the city does not attempt to inappropriately regulate our clients’ shows under this new ordinance in the future." The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee represents both Elite Productions and Envy, presenters of the popular drag shows in Portland.
Photo: from a rally in Portland, middle September 2017, by Jeff Swafford