Drag Queen Leimomi prepares ahead of the show Friday, Nov. 3 in the Clement Auditorium. Photo By Jennifer Lindahl | THE ALL STATE

Austin Peay State University’s spring drag show in March 2023 was surrounded by conversation around a newly penned Tennessee bill, which had recently been signed by the governor. Now a state law, the Tennessee Adult Entertainment Act bans “adult cabaret performances” in public or in front of minors.

The March show came just three days before the effective date of the new bill, and APSU’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance was prepared to continue the show after its passage as soon as they found out how to interact with the law. 

Carlos Button, then the vice president of SAGA, told The All State in March that the show that month was especially important in light of the legislation. Now, in November, SAGA has managed to put on another show in spite of the new law. So what happened?

On April 1 this year, federal judge Thomas Parker temporarily blocked the actual implementation of the act after a lawsuit from the Memphis, Tennessee LGBTQ theater troupe Friends of George’s. The judge decided the law was overly broad and cited first amendment concerns. On June 2, the injunction was made permanent.

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti filed a Notice of Appeal to the Sixth Circuit on June 30, but for now the law remains halted.

Organizers are still taking precautions, with this semester’s show still requiring a State issued ID at the door. SAGA’s faculty advisor Mitchell Toomey said that the injunction provided a little bit of confidence, but that the looming bill still highlighted the importance of the show.

“There’s a little bit of freedom and then there’s still a little bit of an extra sense to prove our existence as queer folks, and our right to exist in the state of Tennessee, in Clarksville and at Austin Peay,” said Toomey. 

Carlos Button, now president of SAGA, was heavily involved in booking the drag queens at the performance, and other aspects of preparing the show. They said that even though the law was declared unconstitutional by Parker, SAGA had still had to deal with regulatory troubles getting the show off the ground.

The show itself had an attendance of 172, just less than March’s, 174 so it seems the demand for the event hasn’t waned much since the injunction. 

Perhaps among the most enthusiastic about the event’s return were the returning queens. When asked about returning, Vivica Steele said, “We had such a great time last year, and I was honored to be back this year. And I hope you have us back next year, and then next year.”

Drag Queen Shelby LaBanks dances as the crowd applauds. Photo by Ralph Acosta | THE ALL STATE