Hamilton County political leaders discuss drag show bill

Some in Hamilton Co. LGBTQ+ Community feel unsafe following local, national incidents

HAMILTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WDEF) — An upcoming bill in the Tennessee legislature is being viewed in a new light following the weekend’s deadly shooting in Colorado Springs.

The state legislation would make drag shows inaccessible for Tennesseans younger than 18.

State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson says the bill will protect children from being exposed to “sexually explicit drag shows.”

But following the deaths of five in an LGBTQ+ Colorado nightclub, as well as drag show controversies in Hamilton County, one resident says the new bill will only inspire further violence.

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Rachel Campbell says numerous white supremacists recently gathered outside of Chattanooga’s Seed Theatre to threaten local drag show performers.

She says the new legislation will pass and spur greater violence against the local LGBTQ+ community.

“Just like what happened in Colorado Springs, the mean people, the hateful people, the people who are ignorant will immediately think, ok, I was right, the government thinks I’m right, the laws say I’m right, so I’ll take care of it myself,'” Campbell said. “It will immediately put lives in danger on day one.”

Campbell was critical of Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp for calling “family-friendly” drag shows “gross” and criticized state Republicans for focusing on criminalizing drag shows rather than expanding Medicaid or further funding public education.

“They’re scared and they should be scared,” Campbell said. “We are living in a time where people who see someone other than themselves … they feel like it’s their right to harm them.”

Hamilton County Conservatives President Chris Widener, like Campbell, condemned all violence against the community but is in full support of the legislation.

He says it isn’t meant to be anti-drag show, but to protect children from sexual content.

“There is a very innate sexual nature to drag shows and it’s something that shouldn’t be done in front of children,” Widener said. “If you’re a man, you want to dress up like a woman and dance, have at it. But it shouldn’t ever be done in front of children.”

Widener says guidelines to protect children aren’t uncommon, such as preventing entry into bars, NC-17 movies, and more.

He says there are also members of the LGBTQ+ community in the Republican party who would agree with the proposed bill’s ideology.

“There are people inside that community that I know both locally and nationally — they agree with us,” Widener said. “They would say this is not something that we think should be done in front of children.”

Sen. Johnson had been quoted in a past interview saying, “It is illegal to take your child to a strip club, and yet we’re going to allow a drag show that has blatantly explicit sexual activity taking place in a public park where kids are present — no; we’re going to stop that.”

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