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Governor to restrict drag performances, despite awkward photo

Gov. Bill Lee will sign a bill to criminalize some drag performances, which makes a photo of the Republican from his high school days rather inconvenient.


UPDATE (Thursday, March 2, 2023, 4:47 p.m. ET): Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday signed into law a bill restricting drag performances, making Tennessee the first state to do so.

There are Republican-led efforts underway in at least 15 states to restrict drag performances, but GOP officials in Tennessee are apparently eager to lead the pack. Not surprisingly, the state’s Republican governor is eager to advance the culture war agenda, though as NBC News reported, there’s an awkward detail hanging overhead.

By the time Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee confirmed Monday that he would sign a recently passed bill criminalizing drag performances in public and in front of children, a photo that appears to show him dressed in drag as a high school student had already started to circulate on Reddit and Twitter.

The NBC News report added that the image in question appears to reference a so-called powderpuff football game, in which boys dress as girls and vice versa during homecoming week. As part of the fun, the future governor appears to have worn a wig, a pearl necklace, and a short-skirted cheerleader’s uniform, standing alongside girls who wore men’s suits and ties.

Lee was asked about this at a news conference, and while the governor didn’t challenge the photograph’s accuracy, he clearly didn’t appreciate the question, calling it “ridiculous.”

Taken at face value, the GOP governor seems to believe that when boys dress up as girls for entertainment at a school, that’s fine, but when men dress up as women for entertainment at a nightclub with kids in attendance, that requires government-imposed restrictions.

Lee went on to tell reporters that the bill he intends to sign is designed to prevent children from being exposed to “obscenities.” A report in The Tennessean newspaper added, “Opponents have argued that laws are already in place to prevent public obscenity and that the bill’s broad language will have a chilling effect on artistic performance and depictions of gender nonconformity.”

The same report added that under the bill, which is poised to become law, “a first offense would be charged as a misdemeanor and the second a felony.”

The phrase “a solution in search of a problem” keeps coming to mind.