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How are are Memphis Pride groups preparing to support drag performers for June Pride events amidst new anti-drag performance laws

"Our drag queens, and kings and transgender people have been on the front lines in the beginning, it’s important that we support them.”

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In March, Tennessee became the first state in America to pass a law limiting drag performances. Several members of the LGBTQIA+ community are worried about what this could mean for Pride Month in June.  

Pride is often one of, if not the biggest celebration for the LGBTQIA+ community, especially in the Mid-South.

In Memphis, Pride Month kicks off with Memphis Pride Fest June 1st, followed by Tri-State Black Pride a few weeks later on the 15th.  However, the new anti-drag performance law goes into effect at the beginning of April, leaving concern for what the future of Pride could be.

“Drag individuals are the pillars of the LGBT community, and so we have to protect them,” said Dr. Davin Clemons, Tri-State Black Pride Exec. Director, “I’m privileged with this law right now, it doesn’t affect me, but it affects my sisters and brothers, so I have to protect them and stand up for them, because if they fall, I fall.”

Clemons has already started talking to people at the Caption by Hyatt Beale Street to see if there is still a way to have drag performances at its big events.

“How are we going to block it off from kids coming down the hallway possibly? If the entertainers can walk from their rooms to brunch areas,” said Clemons.

A similar effort is being made by the organizers of Memphis Pride Fest as well.

“Last year we had 50 thousand people here,” said Vanessa Rodley, Mid-South Pride Festival Director, who adds creating a safe and family friendly event has always been a goal of Mid-South Pride.

Right now Rodley says a main focus is eliminating the gray areas many lawmakers have expressed.  One idea in discussion is having event-goers tip into a bucket instead of tipping the performer directly themselves.  Other options include discussions about the performances that have become widely used in drag.

“A lot of the performers and they’ll just unveil the next outfit, we’re talking about this as well, but we may not allow that,” said Rodley, “So we’re going to do everything we can to remove some of these gray areas of this law to make it a lot safer and easier for the performers.”

Both organizations promising to keep the community and their performers safe, backing them up after the efforts of many like them  have contributed to the LGBTQIA+ movement.

“Pride started as a riot.  Our drag queens, and kings and transgender people have been on the front lines in the beginning, it’s important that we support them,” said Rodley.

After the law goes into effect on April 1st, those who are deemed inviolation of the law will receive a misdemeanor on their first offense and a felony for every violation after that.

A little over a week ago, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said he would enforce the law, however it would be a low priority, and called the bill itself ill-advised.

"I think it's a solution in search of a problem. I think we've got so much on our plate right now that we should be focusing on drag racing — not drag shows," said Mulroy.

ABC24 reached out for a comment about Memphis and other communities’ pride events from Republican State Senator Jack Johnson.  Senator Johnson led the senate version of the bill as is was going through legislation.  His statement in an email to ABC24 did not directly address our specific request, but reiterated the law “ this bill is not targeting any group of people,” and “it has nothing to do with how people dress in public. It only addresses sexually explicit adult oriented performances.”

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