Tenn. governor vows to sign anti-drag bill as photo surfaces

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address in the House Chamber, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski) (Mark Zaleski, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Republican Gov. Bill Lee says it would be “ridiculous” to conflate a recently surfaced yearbook photo of him wearing women's clothing in high school to drag show performances currently under attack in Tennessee and other GOP-led states.

Lee told reporters this week that he plans to sign legislation that would severely limit where drag performances can take place by banning “adult cabaret entertainment” that is “harmful to minors” from public property or locations where children might see the performance.

The bill does not explicitly include the words “drag show," but it does expand the definition of adult cabaret to include “male or female impersonators," as well as topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers and strippers.

On Monday, Lee was fielding questions from reporters about the legislation and other anti-LGBTQ bills when an activist asked him if he remembered "dressing up in drag in 1977."

Lee was presented with a photo that showed the governor as a high school senior dressed in women's clothing that was published in the Franklin High School 1977 yearbook. The photo was first posted on Reddit over the weekend.

“What a ridiculous question that is,” said Lee, who was visibly angry. “Conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious question.”

When asked specific examples of inappropriate drag shows taking place in front of children, Lee pointed to the school building close to where he was talking to reporters.

“I think the concern is right there in that building,” Lee said. “Children that are potentially exposed to sexualized entertainment, to obscenity, and we need to make sure that they’re not.”

This is now the second time a yearbook photo of Lee has sparked controversy. In 2018, Lee said he regretted wearing a Confederate uniform during an “Old South” party after confirming there was a photo of him doing so in Auburn University's 1980 yearbook.

Meanwhile, Lee also confirmed that he plans on signing legislation banning most gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

The GOP-dominated Statehouse finished advancing the legislation last week, where it's headed to Lee's desk. The anti-drag show bill is expected to clear the Legislature this week.

Drag does not typically involve nudity or stripping, which are more common in burlesque, a separate form of entertainment. Explicitly sexual and profane language is common in performances meant for adult audiences. These routines can consist of stand-up comedy that may be raunchy — or may pale in comparison with some mainstream comedians.