Actors’ Equity Association has condemned Tennessee’s new legislation restricting drag performance, urging theaters in the state to “join us in rejecting it entirely and lobbying for its elimination.”
The union, which represents actors and stage managers in live theater, also said it is “monitoring the progress of similarly dystopian laws in other states.”
Tennessee recently became the first state to enact a law explicitly targeting drag shows, criminalizing performances that take place in public or where they could be seen by children.
The joint statement condemning the law was made by Equity President Kate Shindle and Executive Director Al Vincent, Jr. Equity had released a statement on January 27 condemning the growing number of attacks on transgender people “often framed as attacks on drag performance.”
According to today’s statement, the union is currently engaged in outreach efforts to Equity theater across Tennessee to ensure the safety of national theatrical touring companies making stops in the state. Equity says it is working closely with the Broadway League – the trade organization that represents theater owners and producers – on the outreach.
“Culture wars are not bloodless, and they are rarely isolated,” Equity says. “Escalating rhetoric can quickly lead to unsafe conditions. Right now, the harm in Tennessee is focused on both personal and performance-based gender identity. We will not tolerate gender-based threats or violence.”
Equity is encouraging drag artists and transgender, nonbinary or gender nonconforming actors and stage managers who feel at risk to contact their union reps immediately.
In addition, the union asks theater employers seeking “carveouts” to the law for their own productions to instead join efforts to reject the law entirely.
“We will not stand quietly by while our traditions or our work – in shows like Peter Pan, Hairspray, Chicago, Rent, Angels in America and too many more to name – are reclassified as obscenity by ridiculous politicians,” the statement reads.
Read the entire statement below:
Equity stands ready to protect our members in Tennessee and beyond, should anyone try to enforce unjust laws against them. If you are a drag artist, or if you are a transgender, nonbinary or gender nonconforming actor or stage manager working in a context you feel puts you at risk, please contact your business rep (or, after hours, the emergency hotline) immediately. Our staff is currently doing outreach to Equity theatres across the state, and working closely with our Broadway League colleagues to ensure the safety of our members on tours that stop in Tennessee. We’re aware that some theatrical employers may be advocating for carveouts to the law; we urge them instead to join us in rejecting it entirely and lobbying for its elimination. We are also monitoring the progress of similarly dystopian laws in other states.
“We want to be extremely clear that performing artists across our country are protected from government overreach by the First Amendment. We are prepared to defend our right to safe and harassment-free workplaces. For centuries, performers have worn costumes that society deems inconsistent with the sex they were assigned at birth. The Ancient Greeks did it, Elizabethans performing Shakespeare’s plays did it and contemporary artists do it too. We will not stand quietly by while our traditions or our work – in shows like Peter Pan, Hairspray, Chicago, Rent, Angels in America and too many more to name – are reclassified as obscenity by ridiculous politicians.
“Culture wars are not bloodless, and they are rarely isolated. Escalating rhetoric can quickly lead to unsafe conditions. Right now, the harm in Tennessee is focused on both personal and performance-based gender identity. We will not tolerate gender-based threats or violence. We recognize that historically marginalized communities of all kinds are being put at risk by lawmakers who make them targets for the sake of social media clicks and campaign contributions. We will not tolerate – onstage or offstage – racism, antisemitism, AAPI hate, erosion of our voting rights or our bodily autonomy, hostility toward the LGBTQ+ community or any other form of bigotry that opportunists try to stir up. People who are ‘different’ are not the enemy. The enemy is the one who leverages and misrepresents our differences in order to weaponize fear.
“We stand in solidarity with drag performers. We also stand with young Tennesseans who are affirming their own gender. We see you, we value you and we know you will remember this when you’re old enough to vote. To everyone else in Tennessee: your beautiful state deserves better. Please stop electing these people.