Feb 28 (Reuters) - Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said he would sign into law bills that passed the legislature last week banning gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth and restricting drag performances in public.
Speaking to reporters outside a school on Monday, Lee, a Republican, also addressed a high-school yearbook photograph that appeared to show him wearing a cheerleaders' dress, a wig and a pearl necklace.
"What a ridiculous, ridiculous question," Lee said when asked if he recalled dressing in drag in 1977, "conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very, very serious subject."
Lee said the drag bill, which comes into effect April 1, would protect children from being "potentially exposed to sexualized entertainment, to obscenity."
Civil rights groups and drag performers have noted that Tennessee, like other states, already bans obscenity in front of minors, and call the restrictions unconstitutional, vague and redundant.
Modern drag performances, which have long flourished in LGBT venues before becoming a more mainstream entertainment in recent years, typically do not involve nudity.
Performers who host drag brunches at restaurants or library reading hours with children say they are able to tailor their shows to be child- or family-friendly. Representative Chris Todd, a Republican sponsor of the bill, has said even drag shows that bill themselves as family-friendly are inappropriate or even harmful to children.
One of the bills Lee will sign bans doctors from providing gender-affirming medical treatment, such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery, for transgender minors.
The other criminalizes "adult cabaret entertainment" in public or where it could be seen by children. The bill defines such entertainment as including "adult-oriented" performances by strippers, go-go dancers or "male or female impersonators," terms left undefined.
The Tennessee bills are part of an upswing in recent months in Republican efforts to regulate the conduct of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
"The ultimate goal is the public erasure of LGBTQ people," said Stella Yarbrough, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.
She called Lee's comments about the yearbook photograph hypocritical: "They have this blind spot where they seem to allow themselves to do those same activities because they assign themselves an innocent intent, and they ascribe to others a guilty intent or a sexually perverted intent, and it's just a double standard."
After Lee's remarks, his office issued a statement: "The bill specifically protects children from obscene, sexualized entertainment, and any attempt to conflate this serious issue with lighthearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families."