ACLU of Tennessee Demands Portland Drop Second Ordinance Targeting Drag Shows

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
November 15, 2017 4:00 pm

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PORTLAND, Tenn. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today sent a letter to the mayor and board of aldermen of Portland, Tennessee, demanding that the city drop a second ordinance that effectively bans drag shows or risk litigation.

ACLU-TN sent the letter on behalf of Elite Productions and Envy Restaurant Bar & Grill. This is the second ordinance the board has proposed in response to popular drag shows presented over the past several months by Elite Productions at Envy.

The board of aldermen dropped an initial ordinance at its November 6 meeting, instead voting to advance a new ordinance, No. 17-75, on first reading. Like its predecessor, ordinance No. 17-75 attempts to define male or female impersonation as inherently erotic in order to regulate it as adult entertainment. The new ordinance, according to ACLU-TN’s letter, “continues to raise serious First Amendment freedom of speech concerns.”

Courts have held that government can impose some reasonable restrictions on adult entertainment. However, the courts have found that an establishment can only be considered an “adult cabaret” if erotic entertainment is the principal use of the business and the performers expose certain anatomical areas. Neither criteria apply in the case of Elite Productions’ performances, which feature fully-clothed impersonators singing, dancing and performing comedy bits.

The new ordinance also tries to use “secondary effects” of adult-oriented businesses, such as an impact on property values in the area, to justify regulating drag performances. However, not one of the studies cited by the board of aldermen connects the type of performance that Elite produces to any secondary effect that would justify such regulation.

ACLU-TN is urging the board of aldermen to remove the ordinance from consideration or to vote it down.

“We hope that the board of aldermen realizes that just because they may not like a particular kind of speech does not mean that they can shut it down,” said Mandy Strickland Floyd, ACLU-TN staff attorney. “The First Amendment protects our clients’ speech and expression. If the city fails to recognize this, we’ll see them in court.”

The next Portland board of aldermen meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 20 at 6:30 p.m.

The letter the ACLU of Tennessee sent today is available at

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