Tennessee SB 841, ‘Drag Performers Must Register With the Government’
On March 21 2023, Imgur user redbullvodka shared a screenshot of a tweet with a post title indicating that a proposed bill would require “drag performers” to register with the government in Tennessee:
Text submitted alongside the post emphasized the submitter’s concerns about Tennessee’s purported bill proposing permits for “male and female impersonators”:
This bill forces drag performers to register for permits in the same way strippers have to in TN. It does not define what a female or male impersonator is, which puts my trans homies in a very dangerous position. It can be interpreted by any fascist however they want to. Yeah. Okay cool. Government registry of a minority community…
Not only that but, it then puts the drag clubs’ liquor licenses at stake because our strip clubs are all BYOB (at least in Nashville). My favorite drag clubs will lose tons of money in alcohol sales. I hate this state.
A March 20 2023 tweet by @ErinInTheMorn was attached to the post:
You thought the Tennessee drag ban was bad? wait til you see TN 841.
This bill would force REGISTRATION of "male or female impersonators" by means of forcing them to register for permits.
It does not define what an impersonator is. pic.twitter.com/0Wk4JLC2RZ
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) March 20, 2023
In the first part of the tweet, @ErinInTheMorn referenced a separate “Tennessee drag ban.” On March 6 2023, NPR’s “The anti-drag bills sweeping the U.S. are straight from history’s playbook” explained:
… Advocates worry that recently-passed legislation restricting drag performances in public spaces in Tennessee could be used to discriminate against them, and fuel the slew of similar laws being proposed in other states.
The bill that passed in Tennessee [in early March 2023] restricts “adult cabaret performances” in public or in the presence of children, and bans them from occurring within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks, or places of worship.
This was passed alongside separate legislation that bans transgender minors in Tennessee from receiving gender-affirming care like puberty blockers, hormones, and surgery.
NPR linked to a copy of Tennessee’s Senate Bill 3, [PDF]. On March 3 2023, UPI reported:
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed controversial legislation restricting public “adult cabaret” performances, becoming the first state this year to enact such a law amid a conservative backlash against drag queens reading stories to minors at public libraries.
The Republican governor signed the law Thursday [March 2 2023] after the state’s Republican-controlled Senate voted 26-6 in favor of Senate Bill 3, which makes it an offense for a person to perform adult cabaret in public where minors could be present. The state’s House passed the bill 74-20 on Feb. 23 .
In threaded tweets, @ErinInTheMorn linked to Tennessee Senate Bill 841. “Permit” appeared on the second of three pages:
SECTION 4. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-51-1115, is amended by designating the existing language as subsection (a) and adding the following as a new subsection (b):
(b) A person shall not provide adult cabaret entertainment for compensation without a valid permit issued by the board pursuant to this part.
A separate summary of Tennessee’s SB 841 (or SB 0841) on a state legislation site described the bill as related to the “Tennessee drag ban” bill, adding:
ON MARCH 6, 2023, THE HOUSE ADOPTED AMENDMENT #2 AND PASSED HOUSE BILL 30, AS AMENDED.
AMENDMENT #2 rewrites the definition of “adult cabaret entertainment,” relative to obtaining a permit from the adult-oriented establishment board, to mean adult-oriented performances that are harmful to a minor, as the term is defined under present law, and that feature topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers, including a single performance or multiple performances by an entertainer. Present law defines “harmful to minors” as that quality of any description or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual excitement, sexual conduct, excess violence, or sadomasochistic abuse when the matter or performance:
(1) Would be found by the average person applying contemporary community standards to appeal predominantly to the prurient, shameful, or morbid interests of minors;
(2) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and
(3) Taken as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific values for minors.
This amendment also revises the definition of “entertainer,” relative to the Adult-Oriented Establishment Registration Act of 1998, to include a performance of actual or simulated specified sexual activities, including removal of articles of clothing or appearing unclothed regardless of whether a fee is charged or accepted for the performance and regardless of whether the performance is provided as an employee or an independent contractor.
SB 841 did not appear to receive much news coverage. On March 16 2023, the Chattanooga Times Free Press published “Tennessee bills target gender identity and expression,” including a section titled “Requiring Permits,” which linked to the earlier bill and SB 841, also articulating concerns about how vague portions of the drafted legislation could be weaponized to harm a “community that’s already vulnerable”:
House Bill 30 / Senate Bill 841, sponsored by Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald.
Drag performers may need to obtain permits to be paid for shows if a bill that passed the House last week [in March 2023] makes it to the governor’s desk.
House Bill 30 would expand restrictions on drag shows that Gov. Bill Lee signed into law earlier [in March 2023]. It also reiterates the restrictions on minors attending drag shows.
Doggett told House members March 6  the bill would only apply to people performing in a way that is harmful to children … As written, the legislation would also require permits for paid go-go dancers, exotic dancers, topless dancers and “other similar entertainers,” as well as “male or female impersonators.”
Requiring permits would also create a database of drag performers, which could be dangerous depending on who can access it, Chattanooga Pride representative and performer Noah Corbin previously told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea, especially for a community that’s already vulnerable,” Corbin said in a phone call [in March 2023].
Tennessee’s SB 841 was real and accurately described. On March 21 2023, however, @ErinInTheMorn shared an update to Twitter:
Major good news!
The Tennessee "male and female impersonators must be licensed/registered" bill, SB841, has failed in committee.
This bill would have taken the Tennessee drag bill and put it on steroids, forced registries of trans performers and drag artists. pic.twitter.com/ThWmB5brX4
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) March 21, 2023
On the Tennessee General Assembly’s website, the bill’s history was accessible here. A March 21 2023 update to the entry explained SB 0841 “Failed in Senate State and Local Government Committee.”
A viral March 20 2023 tweet by @ErinInTheMorn claimed that Tennessee’s SB 841 (or SB 0841) would require “drag performers” to “register” for a permit. SB 841 was real, defined drag as an “adult cabaret performance,” and held that a “person shall not provide adult cabaret entertainment for compensation without a valid permit issued by the board.” LGBTQ+ rights advocates expressed concerns that the legislation could be leveraged to harass transgender residents of Tennessee. On March 21 2023, the bill failed in commitee.