Pop superstar Lizzo appeared on stage with a group of drag queens at her concert in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Friday night, purposely defying a law barring drag performances in the state.
A Tennessee bill that passed earlier this year forbids so-called “adult cabaret” in public spaces where children could feasibly be present, including restaurants, bars, libraries, and other areas.
“I was told by people on the internet, ‘Cancel your shows in Tennessee, don’t go to Tennessee,’” Lizzo told the crowd of thousands of her fans in Knoxville. “Their reason was valid, but why would I not come to the people who need to hear this message the most? Why would I not create a safe space in Tennessee where we can celebrate drag entertainers and celebrate our differences?”
The singer then praised the Tennesseans who have been supporting local artists and defying the law. “What people are doing in Tennessee is giving hope. Thank you for standing up for your rights,” she said.
Video posted on Lizzo’s Instagram account shows the singer onstage with several drag queens, some wearing silver and others dressed in the colors of the rainbow.
Lizzo’s act of solidarity comes as far right lawmakers across the country have targeted drag performances as part of their broader legislative attacks on the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ people and allies have pushed back against false, right-wing claims that drag shows are harmful to children. Pop culture writer Heidi Klaasen has said that allowing her gay teenage son to attend drag performances has enabled him to live life more authentically.
“Some would call me a bad parent for letting my child watch ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ or taking him to a drag show … [but] in a society bursting with images of women and girls as sex objects, rampant gun violence, and hate driven by ignorance, I’m glad my kids can enjoy an art form that starts the conversation about queer history, oppression, and activism,” Klaasen said in an op-ed last year. “My son sees himself reflected in these artists, and his brothers are growing up with exposure to a culture that normalizes this diversity. It’s part of educating all of us about our evolving societal landscape.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed the ban into law in early March, around the time that photos surfaced of him dressed in drag as a teenager.
“For Bill Lee to say, ‘You know, that was lighthearted when I did it,’ that is absolutely absurd when a lot of drag is extremely lighthearted,” said Hella Skeleton, a drag performer in a rural part of the state. “Apparently, when straight men dress up badly in drag, that’s OK. But when gay and queer and trans people do it, that’s not OK.”
Tenneessee’s ban on drag performances was temporarily blocked later in March when a federal judge ruled that it violated First Amendment speech rights.
Federal Judge Thomas L. Parker wrote that Tennessee could only “exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene … within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution.”
“The court finds that as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this statute, it missed the mark” in abiding by the First Amendment speech protections outlined in the Constitution, Parker added.