A group of drag performers dance in the street during a Pride parade.

Tennessee Governor Plans To Ban Drag Despite Having Participated in the Art Form Himself


With a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping across the United States, Republican politicians once again prove that their hypocrisy knows no bounds. Stepping into the spotlight today is none other than Bill Lee, the Republican governor of Tennessee, who recently vowed to sign an anti-drag bill into law, despite appearing to love the practice himself. The bill would criminalize drag performers for performing in public or in front of children.

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Okay, before we get into that, I have a question: who named this man? Bill Lee … so like … Billy? I am supposed to believe that some mother named this child Bill without knowing that his full name just sounds like one name? Maybe she wanted to call him Billy but thought it would be more efficient to leave off the “y” at the end? “Bill Lee” makes it sound like he’s on a first-name basis with the world. Beyonce. Rihanna. Bill Lee. It’s genius. Plus it makes for a perfect drag name if ever he wants do a lip-synch cover of “Bad Guy”. Just call him Bill Lee Eilish.

When did this happen? And will he be appearing in the next season of Drag Race?

It all started when a Reddit user posted this photo of Bill Lee appearing in drag in 1977. The photo spread like wildfire across the platform before jumping over to Twitter. This Monday, he was fielding questions about his anti-drag bill when a reporter asked him if he remembered “dressing up in drag” back in the 70s. Bill Lee, no doubt gay-panicking internally, said “what a ridiculous question that is… conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious question.”

Governor, I have very serious questions: does your mother know that you stole her pearl necklace? Did you buy that wig yourself? Do you need help putting it on next time? Is that a skort or are you just wearing shorts under your skirt? Is the neckline of your sports jacket actually cut like that or did you take a pair of scissors to it the night before? Who is the trans-masc stud you’re linking arms with? Are you two still seeing each other? Does he know about the bill you’re about to sign into law?

It’s a pity I wasn’t there to ask, because Lee quickly moved on by pointing at the school building behind him, saying “I think the concern is right there in that building … children that are potentially exposed to sexualized entertainment, to obscenity, and we need to make sure that they’re not.” Oh Bill, based on that picture, you’ve been exposing people to “sexualized entertainment” in schools since ’77. Why stop now?

Lee’s press secretary refused to confirm whether or not the drag queen in the photo was Bill Lee Eilish herself, but said in an email that “any attempt to conflate this serious issue with lighthearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families.” The “school tradition” was likely a “powderpuff football game” where boys and girls trade clothes and play football. It’s also technically the exact kind of performance he’s now trying to ban as it featured a “female impersonator” performing in a space that “could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.”

After instituting his drag ban, Lee also intends to pass a law that will ban gender-affirming care for trans minors. If passed, the bill will bar anyone from under the age of 18 from receiving medical treatment (including puberty blockers) and would impose heavy financial penalties on doctors who do so.

As for seeing Bill Lee on the next season of Drag Race, I doubt it’s likely. I don’t think the other girls are going to take too kindly to Bill banning the art form in his state. He’ll just have to sashay away.

But WAIT, it gets BETTER (or actually, worse)

A SECOND yearbook photo of Lee has just surfaced that shows him dressed like a Confederate soldier. I guess Lee was trying to be less “Bill” and more “Robert E.” during his college days. The photo was taken at an “Old South” party thrown at Auburn University and appeared in their 1980 yearbook. I shudder to imagine the other costumes at that party (and how many of the attendees now serve as Lee’s Republican colleagues). Because they were there! According to the AP, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey attended Auburn ten years before, and a 1967 yearbook photo shows some of the members of her sorority wearing black masks pretending to be “minstrels.” She said that she “didn’t remember it”, which is surprising, considering that she was vice president of the student body at the time.

It’s ironic that Bill Lee Elish’s first and last public drag performance (that we know of) could be considered illegal once this bill is signed into law. The exact language of the bill states “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” will be subject to prosecution should they perform on public property or in places where they could be viewed by minors. I don’t know y’all, I’m seeing quite a bit of “prurient interest” radiating from that photo. Isn’t it strange that his hands that once pulled a skirt up over his knees will now hold the pen that stops any other drag performer from doing it? My big question is, what’s gonna happen to the “powderpuff football” school tradition? Will that be done away with as well? Or are we “conflating” two separate issues again? Can Tennessee drag performers continue to dress in drag as long as it’s football themed? Because if that’s the case, I think all the LGBTQ people in America should converge on Tennessee for a “football game” during pride month. Football helmets, skorts, and pearl necklaces: that’s the uniform. But we won’t need to provide one for Bill, we all know she has her own.

(featured image: Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.