The city of Portland, Tennessee, is again coming under fire from the ACLU. For the second time, Portland is trying to enact a Tennessee drag ban, deeming drag “adult entertainment.” They tried this earlier this year, and the ACLU threatened to sue then, too.
The ban is in response to a single producer. 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,” says Kyle Guillermo, one of Elite’s owners. “People are trying to get us out of Portland.”
On Sept. 5, the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously voted to amend its adult-oriented business zoning ordinance. The amendment classified 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.
The ACLU sent a letter to the board threatening to sue the city if the ordinance were passed. The ACLU says that as drag shows contain no erotic or sexual content (i.e. genital displays or BDSM acts), they’re protected by the First Amendment.
The ACLU is not the only group to threaten to sue; The Tennessee Equality Project also said it would sue the city if it passed the ordinance. Members of the public also held rallies in support of Elite.
On Nov. 5, the board killed the first ordinance. But it proposed a second ordinance to regulate sexually-oriented businesses. Unfortunately, the new ordinance includes the same definition of “male or female impersonation” as inherently erotic.
The ACLU sent another letter today, warning the city that if the amendment goes forward, they will sue. According to the ACLU, government can impose restrictions on adult entertainment but only if the principal function of the business is erotic entertainment, involving nudity.
Elite’s performances feature fully clothed performers singing, dancing and performing comedy. You know, like a normal drag show.
The Portland Board of Mayor and Aldermen has not commented on the ACLU’s letter. We hope this time the city realizes it can’t ban drag shows — but then again, some people never learn.
Featured image by Creatista via iStock