Anti-Drag Bills in Tennessee Prompt All-Star Arena Benefit With Hayley Williams, Maren Morris, Jason Isbell, Yola, Hozier and Others

Tennessee’s aggressive legislative moves against drag performances have prompted a host of pro-LGBTQ artists from different genres to come together for a March 20 benefit concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, dubbed “Love Rising,” that will raise funds for the Tennessee Equality Project and several other local pride organizations.

Among those taking part in the Bridgestone show are Maren Morris and Brothers Osborne, two artists that have spoken up about LGBTQ issues in the often quiet mainstream country world. Others on the bill from the rock, pop, Americana and alternative realms include Paramore’s Haylee Williams, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Allison Russell, Yola, Brittany Howard and Hozier. Julien Baker, Joy Oladokun, Jake Wesley Rogers, Mya Byrne and the Rainbow Coalition Band round out the packed lineup. Other special guests are expected to be added.

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Tickets for the Nashville benefit go on sale Wednesday at 10 a.m. CT here.

“Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 9 are clearly targeted attacks on Tennesseans who haven’t done anything wrong,” said Isbell in a statement. “These bills add up to an attempt to eradicate a valuable part of our community and force good people to live in fear. We can’t in good conscience just stand by and let that happen.”

A press release for the event makes the claim that “since 2015, Tennessee has enacted more anti-LGBTQIA+ laws than any other state in the country.” The latest of these, making national headlines in recent weeks, are the aforementioned Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 9, which seek to limit performances involving cross-dressing from happening in public, in places where minors are allowed, or within 1,000 feet of any schools, parks or churches.

The actual language of the legislation would make it a misdemeanor on first offense and a felony on subsequent charges to put on an “adult cabaret performance” in a location other than an “adult cabaret that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.” Opponents of the bills strongly believe that any appearance by an artist in drag could be considered “prurient” under the law. Even first-time offenders who are charged with a misdemeanor could face up to a year in jail.

Tennessee is not alone in pushing draconian legislation against artists in drag; about 10 Republican-led legislatures have similar bills in the works.

With virtually no clarity in the legislation about what a drag performance entails or how low the bar is for crossing the line, “it’s … this subtle and sinister way to further criminalize just being trans,” the Tennessee ACLU’s Henry Seaton recently told NPR.

Said Allison Russell, who recently won the Americana Honors album of the year award at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, “As a queer, intersectional artist and mother, raising my child in Nashville, it’s important to me to support these wonderful Tennessee LGBTQIA+ advocacy organizations, working so hard to build bridges, reduce harm and promote equality for all Tennesseans. LGBTQIA+ contributions and creativity are foundational to every genre of modern song and arts performance. I think it speaks volumes that so many in our community are feeling the same call to support, celebrate and uplift.”

The Tennessee Equality Project, Inclusion Tennessee, OUTMemphis and the Tennessee Pride Chamber are the beneficiaries of concert proceeds. The Looking Out Foundation will accept donations and doubling contributions up to a maximum of $100,000.

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