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Knox Pride Festival threatens to cancel if bill that could outlaw drag in public places becomes law

<i>Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel/USA Today Network</i><br/>A scene from the Knox Pride Festival
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel/USA Today Network
A scene from the Knox Pride Festival

By Devon M. Sayers, CNN

A Knoxville, Tennessee, festival celebrating the LGBTQ community has threatened to cancel a scheduled October event if a bill proposed in the state legislature to limit drag performances in public becomes law.

Organizers of Knox Pride Festival say the law could make parts of its event against the law.

Senate Bill 3 would make illegal any “adult cabaret performances” on public property or a place where the “performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.”

In the proposed law “adult cabaret performances” are performances featuring “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration,” according to the proposed law.

The bill has been approved by the Tennessee House and is awaiting approval from the Republican-controlled Senate. If approved by the legislative body, the office of Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, said he plans to sign the bill.

“The Governor expects to sign the legislation, but as always, he will review the final legislation when it reaches his desk,” Lee spokeswoman Jade Byers told CNN.

The bill’s sponsor says the measure is an effort to protect children in the state.

“This legislation is about protecting children,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, a Republican, said in a news release last week, after the bill cleared subcommittees in the house.

Last November when the legislation was introduced, Senator Johnson said the bill was “aimed at protecting children from sexualized drag queen events.”

A spokesperson for the senator said the bill has been misinterpreted.

“The bill does not ban drag shows in public. Under the bill, only performances that are overtly sexual would be age restricted. There has been a lot of inaccurate information claiming that the bill would ban drag shows or ban drag shows in public. The bill is specifically targeted at restricting sexually explicit performances,” Molly Gormley, press secretary for The Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus told CNN in an email.

“If the bill passes, Knox Pride has no reason to cancel their parade or festivities, unless they plan on their entire event being made up of overtly sexual drag performances,” Gormley told CNN.

But organizers disagree.

“If this moves forward into law, the Knox Pride Festival, and potentially the Parade, would be against the law in the ways we have presented entertainment in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. You can no longer say you’re an ally if you are not helping us fight this,” John Camp the executive director of Knox Pride said in a news release.

If the bill becomes law, first offense violators would face a little less than a year in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500. Second offenses would be felonies and carry up to six years in prison and fines up to $3,000.

Knox Pride is a popular free pride event, according to the organizers. The annual event draws an estimated 75,000 to 80,000 people. This year’s festival is scheduled for October 6. The festival organizers say it is the largest fundraiser for a resource center operated by Knox Pride which supports the community with a food pantry, a clothing store, and support groups for the community.

CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, is a sponsor of Knox Pride.

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