UNITED STATES NEWS

Musicians fight threat of Tennessee anti-LGBTQ, drag bills

Mar 22, 2023, 10:59 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation this month targeting drag performances and transgender youth, many musicians living and working in the state felt their community, their audiences and their artistic expressions were also under fire.

The trend of conservative-led legislatures hateful rhetoric about trans people has led the tightly knit musical community in Tennessee to use their voices and songs to raise awareness and money, as well as encourage music fans to get out and vote.

Love Rising, a concert held on Monday in Nashville, featured Grammy-winning artists like Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, Maren Morris, Hayley Williams and Brittany Howard alongside drag performers and trans and queer singer-songwriters. The following night, the effort continued with a second show, We Will Always Be, featuring a showcase of LGBTQ artists in collaboration with Black Opry.

“No one is in danger from our community, from our beautiful greater rainbow coalition of those of us who identify as LGBTQ+ or a drag performer or trans or just a loving ally or just someone who enjoys music,” said Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Allison Russell, one of the organizers of Love Rising.

LGBTQ people have long been a part of the state’s lucrative musical and entertainment industries and drag performers and shows have a storied history in Nashville and beyond.

Artists like Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley have inspired — or been inspired by — drag performances for decades. Parton once told an interviewer that she entered a drag show alongside performers dressed like her — and lost. Nashville has a street named after drag queen Bianca Paige, who was an advocate for those living with HIV.

But in a state that long championed its artistic and creative communities, some musicians now feel threatened by its laws. The bill that passed this year changes the definition of adult cabaret as “harmful to minors” and says that “male or female impersonators” now fall under adult cabaret, along with topless dancers and strippers.

On Monday night backstage at the Love Rising concert, Adeem the Artist, a non-binary singer-songwriter living in East Tennessee, pointed to their flowery blouse and their plum-colored lipstick and wondered if their stage outfit would run afoul of the new law starting July 1.

“I don’t always wear dresses, but I don’t even know if this is OK,” they said. “Am I allowed to wear lipstick? What does it mean to be dressed as the wrong gender?”

Adeem explained that only a few weeks ago, they had been invited by the state to an event honoring songwriters. They politely declined.

“You don’t honor me. You’re challenging my livelihood, you’re challenging the safety of my kid,” they said.

The bill bans adult cabaret from public property or anywhere minors might be present. Drag artist Justine Van De Blair wondered if just walking from a venue to the parking lot where minors might see her would be cause for arrest.

“I’m able to support myself. Drag is my creative outlet,” she said. “Unfortunately it’s so vague right now, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

At Love Rising, the drag artists earned some of the biggest cheers as they rallied the audiences in between musical sets with passionate speeches arguing that the bills were a harmful overreach of government and a fear-based campaign to roll back rights. They walked through the crowds to greet and take photos with fans, blowing air kisses and waving.

The money raised at the concerts was directed to LGBTQ support organizations such as Tennessee Equality Project,Inclusion Tennessee, OUTMemphis and the Tennessee Pride Chamber. Donations were being matched by foundations created by Grammy-winner Brandi Carlile and the family of the late Nashville singer-songwriter John Prine.

The record number of anti-trans bills introduced last year, as well as other legal rulings regarding bodily autonomy, have even influenced some artists’ songwriting. Aaron Lee Tasjan, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, is in the middle of working on his next record and wrote a song that reflects the “nightmare” that queer and trans people are experiencing.

“I’m seeing people in a great amount of mental and emotional distress over it,” he said.

Izzy Heltai, a pop singer-songwriter from Massachusetts, said he moved to Nashville recently because of the industry connections that were there. But he soon fell in love with the welcoming people and friends he met, which he found at odds with the state’s politics. As a trans man who transitioned when he was in his teens, he called the bans on gender-affirming care for youth life-threatening for a population already at high risk for suicide.

“There are a lot of kids that are going to die in the state because of these laws,” said Heltai, who played both benefit concerts. “It’s not theoretical anymore. It’s just that these laws are murdering people.”

But even with the benefit shows, artists said the music industry in Nashville — still dominated by white men at the executive level and on the stages — should be doing more to support marginalized artists who are facing discrimination.

Black Opry founder Holly G started her organization to give Black artists more opportunities to perform and grow their audiences because the mainstream country music industry was not willing to open those doors. Those barriers also exist for LGBTQ singers, musicians, songwriters, producers and others, she said.

“The fight for racial equality is also the fight for LGBTQ+ equality,” she said. “We have to do all of that at the same time and together.”

Backstage at the Bridgestone Arena, drag queen Cya Inhale said she initially thought that her drag community would have to stand alone, but has felt that “the entire arts community in Nashville standing up saying, ‘No, that’s not OK.’”

Besides, Inhale argued, drag and country music have often run in the same circles.

“Do you think Dolly Parton is wearing all those rhinestones because a straight guy told her to? I don’t think so,” she said.

___

Follow Kristin M. Hall at https://twitter.com/kmhall

United States News

Associated Press

AP Source: General Motors and Bedrock real estate plan to redevelop GM Detroit headquarters towers

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors and real estate firm Bedrock will jointly study how to redevelop the automaker’s huge headquarters tower complex in downtown Detroit, a person briefed on the plans said. GM CEO Mary Barra and and Bedrock Chairman Dan Gilbert plan to hold a news conference Monday afternoon to discuss the deal involving […]

11 minutes ago

Former President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court with his legal team o...

Associated Press

Donald Trump arrives at court for start of jury selection in historic criminal trial

Donald Trump arrived Monday at a New York court for the start of jury selection in his hush money trial, marking a singular moment in U.S. history.

15 minutes ago

Associated Press

Justice Thomas misses Supreme Court session Monday with no explanation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was absent from the court Monday with no explanation. Thomas, 75, also was not participating remotely in arguments, as justices sometimes do when they are ill or otherwise can’t be there in person. Chief Justice John Roberts announced Thomas’ absence, saying that his colleague would still participate […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Police officer, sheriff’s deputy and shooter killed in exchange of gunfire in upstate NY, police say

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. (AP) — A police officer and a sheriff’s deputy in upstate New York were shot and killed Sunday night in an exchange of gunfire with another person, who also was killed, police said. The shooting took place shortly after 8 p.m. in suburban Liverpool, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) north of Syracuse. The […]

9 hours ago

Tracy Toulou...

Associated Press

How to tackle crime in Indian Country? Empower tribal justice, ex-Justice Department official says

A recently retired director of the Justice Dept. says the federal government hasn't given tribal justice systems equal recognition.

14 hours ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Musicians fight threat of Tennessee anti-LGBTQ, drag bills