A photo has surfaced showing Tennessee Governor Bill Lee dressed as a woman, despite his readiness to pass legislation criminalizing certain acts of drag.
He was asked if he remembered the photo, which surfaced on Reddit, when he visited a school on Monday.
“What a ridiculous, ridiculous question that is,” he replied.
“Confusing something like that with sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious topic.”
Mr. Lee neither confirmed nor denied that it was him in the photo – which appears to show a man dressed as a cheerleader with a wig and necklace, apparently from a 1977 high school yearbook.
The Republican governor said he plans to pass laws, passed last week by state lawmakers, that would criminalize public drag performances and in front of children.
Limit “adult cabaret entertainment” – defined as “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers…”
Critics say it unfairly targets LGBTQ+ people and culture and implies that all drag is obscene and sexualized.
They also argue that it isn’t necessary, as Tennessee already bans obscenity in front of minors.
The state is set to become the first to pass such a law, but opponents fear more will follow.
“The ultimate goal is the public erasure of LGBTQ people,” said Stella Yarbrough, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.
Advocates, however, say the legislation is needed to protect children from sexualized entertainment.
After his remarks to reporters, Mr. Lee’s office released a statement.
It said, “The bill specifically protects children from lewd and sexualized entertainment, and any attempt to confuse this serious issue with lighthearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families.”
The governor is also set to pass another law that will ban transgender minors from receiving treatments such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery.