Tennessee musicians grapple with the potential impact of new anti-drag law
Those lawmakers have been pushing through a sweeping collection of bills that crack down not only drag shows, but may imperil the performing careers of singers and instrumentalists who don't do drag at all, but happen to be nonbinary, transgender or gender-nonconforming, while also eroding the rights of trans youth, adults and their families in crucial education and health care matters.
Tennessee is hardly the only state where Republicans are erecting such obstructions around the lives of LGBTQIA+ residents. That's nearly become a national obsession among conservatives this legislative session. Similar drag bills are in the works in Kentucky and elsewhere; Arkansas, Florida, Utah, South Dakota, Alabama and Mississippi have also already put a stop to gender-affirming care for youth; North Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas are debating their own legislation, often targeting not only transgender health care, but athletics too.
Still, Tennessee's actions are notable for how aggressive they are — according to the Human Rights Campaign, they outnumber those of many other states — and for how they'll impact Nashville's lucrative and widely watched music industry. Given how many of country's leading women have served as judges on RuPaul's Drag Race — roughly half a dozen and counting — it's not surprising that there are murmurs of concern about the fate of drag in certain corners of the country mainstream. But the implications for musicians of many stripes means the worry's spread all around. It could disrupt numerous other scenes: those populated with young, queer voices; or those inclined toward activism; or those that pride themselves on their independence. Pop stars could be deterred from bringing their tours to Music City, or going there to make use of its infrastructure, work with its seasoned pros or brush up against its history. It's hard to imagine an entertainment town thriving when LGBTQIA+ expression, a prime mover in popular culture always and everywhere, gets constricted. Nonbinary roots singer-songwriter Adeem the Artist forecasts a drain of talent and influence: "The strength of Nashville is going to only diminish from here out," they say, "especially as the world develops beyond it."