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Via unsplash / Photography Karollyne Hubert

Trans healthcare and drag are under attack in Tennessee

The southern US state has passed laws which target gender-affirming care for trans young people and drag performances in public

Tenessee has become the latest US state to pass legislation targetting the LGBTQ+ community.

On February 23, Tennessee lawmakers passed two new laws. The first bans gender-affirming care for trans youth, such as prescribing puberty blockers and hormones, and requires trans children to end their current treatment by March next year. In effect, this amounts to forcible detransition by the state. 

Tennessee’s attack on trans healthcare is unlikely to stop at young people. The state is also proposing a law which would prevent any healthcare organisations managed by ‘TennCare’, its state-run Medicaid programme, from providing gender-affirming care to transgender adults. While this bill has yet to be passed into law, it’s made its way past the first step.

The second law targets public drag performances, making it a felony offence for “male and female impersonators” to perform within 1000 feet of a public park, school or church. It classifies drag as a form of “adult cabaret performance” that “appeals to a prurient interest”, which is how the bill justifies making it an offence to perform it anywhere it could be viewed by a child. According to legislative researcher Erin Reed, the law could be used to criminalise any trans person who performs in public in any capacity, such as a comedian, or takes part in a pride parade. A wide range of anti-drag laws have been proposed across the US within the last few months, but this is the first one to pass.

These bills have been criticised by a number of politicians, organisations and celebrities. Paramore’s Hayley Williams, who grew up in Tennessee, posted on Instagram: “Drag is not a crime. Gender-affirming health care for all, including our youth, is a necessity. Once again our state has passed two regressive and unfathomably harmful bills. We stand in solidarity with our LGBTQIA+ family and local LGBTQIA+ orgs in this fight, not only for inclusion for our friends & family in the queer community, but for radical acceptance and empowerment for each of them.” 

Last week, Memphis-born drag queen Bella DuBalle made a defiant speech against the bill. “The original Pride was a riot and this year we need to remind them that we will fight for our liberation,” she said in a video that went viral on Twitter and TikTik. “We will raise our bricks up high again and let them know that we will not go quietly.”