The city of Portland, Tennessee is considering an ordinance which would classify drag shows as “adult cabaret,” a form of “adult-oriented business” that would ban all drag shows within the city. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee has threatened to sue if the city’s drag show ban passes.
The city has a population of 12,522 people and is located near the Kentucky’s southern border.
The city’s drag show ban targets a single drag-show producer
The city began considering its new ordinance after a local producer of drag shows, Elite Drag Star Productions, put on its first-ever drag show at the Envy Bar & Restaurant. The show occurred on Aug. 12, 2017.
“Shortly after that, we received hate mail on Facebook,” said Kyle Guillermo, one of Elite’s owners. “People are trying to get us out of Portland.”
On September 5, the city board voted unanimously to amend its adult oriented business zoning ordinance “with no discussion,” according to tennessean.com.
The city’s ordinance would classify any stage show featuring “exotic dancers, table dancers, private dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators” as an adult-oriented business, essentially relegating Elite’s drag shows (and any others) outside of the city.
Drag shows are not typically erotic or sexual
The ACLU says that drag shows don’t fall under the adult-oriented business category because they contain no erotic or sexual content like genital displays or acts of BDSM.
The ACLU’s letter reads:
Elite produces stage shows for the entertainment of its audience. The shows are meant to be entertaining and fun — to evoke thought and laughter…. The productions are not sexual or erotic in nature and, in no way, could fall within the category of an “adult oriented business”… Because Ordinance 17-59 would impermissibly regulate more than sexually explicit speech or expression, such as Elite’s performances, the ordinance is unconstitutional.
The ACLU says that if the city passes the ordinance, it will represent a restriction on free-speech that furthers no compelling government interest. In response, the ACLU says it will will have no choice but to sue the city in state or federal court.
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