The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sent a letter to the mayor and Board of Alderman of Portland, Tennessee, demanding that the city drop a proposed, unconstitutional ordinance that effectively bans drag shows.
ACLU-TN sent the letter on behalf of Elite Productions and Envy Restaurant Bar & Grill. The ordinance was proposed in response to a sold-out drag show presented by Elite Productions in mid-August at Envy.
The ordinance, No. 17-59, seeks to classify drag shows as "adult cabaret," which the city describes as a form of "adult-oriented business" that "may be erotic [in] nature." Courts have held that government can impose some reasonable restrictions on adult entertainment. However, as ACLU-TN's letter states, "Artistic expression is not sexual or erotic in nature simply because it involves male or female impersonators and, therefore, it cannot be regulated like 'adult-oriented businesses.'"
"The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and expression, no matter what you are wearing," said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. "It's discriminatory and unconstitutional to single out male and female impersonators in a bid to shut down their speech. If members of the city council are uncomfortable with the drag show, they do not need to attend the performance. But they can't ban it."
The Portland City Council will vote on the proposed ordinance for the second time on Monday, September 18.