Watch: Anti-drag GOP governor bolts from reporters who unearthed photos of him in drag

Watch: Anti-drag GOP governor bolts from reporters who unearthed photos of him in drag
Image via Creative Commons.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee is at war with drag performers in his state. Lee says he plans to sign a recently passed bill restricting "adult cabaret performances" and banning gender-affirming care for the state's minors.

But when confronted with his own past on Monday, after a 1977 photo emerged on Reddit of Lee wearing a miniskirt cheerleader outfit, complete with a wig and a string of pearls, the governor’s office claimed to The Daily Beast, it's "different."

Lee was caught off-guard when a Tennessee Holler reporter confronted him about the photo, asking if he "remembered dressing in drag in 1977." Lee said it was "ridiculous, […] conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious subject," Lee snarled.

Before scrambling into his SUV, the governor added:

I think the concern is what's right there in that building. Children that are potentially exposed to sexualized entertainment, to obscenity. And we need to make sure they're not. I think that's something that should happen in Tennessee and it will because of this bill.

HB 0009 does not specifically ban drag shows; it bars "adult cabaret performances" on public property or in a location where they could be viewed by a minor. The bill cites topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, and male or female impersonators.

The bill passed in the Tennessee House 74-19, and will return to the Senate for a procedural vote, and then to Lee's desk for his signature.

The Tennessee ACLU writes that the anti-transgender bills are not only in violation of the First Amendment to express oneself, but they're "written so broadly and vaguely that they would allow government officials to censor performers based on their own subjective viewpoints of what they deem appropriate on any given day," and describing the bills as a "malicious attempt to remove LGBTQ people from public life. These bans are being fueled by the same paranoia banning books and censoring teachers."

Lee's term has been notoriously anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans.

In 2021, the governor signed HB 3, an anti-transgender bill banning trans girls and women in the state from playing on teams that align with their gender identity.

The bill states: "a student's gender for purposes of participation in a public middle school or high school interscholastic athletic activity or event be determined by the student's sex at the time of the student's birth, as indicated on the student's original birth certificate.”

Lee’' apparent drag photo isn't the first offensive photo to become public.

In 2019, NBC News reported on Lee's time at Auburn University in the Kappa Alpha fraternity, where he and other members dressed in Confederate uniforms for an "Old South" shindig.

Lee was seen in the 1980 yearbook photo wearing a Confederate soldier costume and is seen standing beside a woman in an antebellum dress. One photo (not with Lee) is captioned, "The South shall rise again, right Bill! When the band plays 'Dixie,' a tear comes to our eyes. I'd do anything, Lee, but she comes first."

Lee was forced to apologize when the photo became public.

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