Opinion | Tennessee anti-trans bill highlights GOP’s hypocrisy


Courtesy of U.S. Air National Guard / Tech. Sgt. Darrell Hamm / Defense Visual Information Distribution Service / GetArchive

Bill Lee, governor of Tennessee, is sworn into office at his inauguration Jan. 19, 2019 at War Memorial Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee. Opinions editor Raphael Ranola critiques Lee’s recent anti-drag bills as being a classic example of Republican hypocrisy and reinforcement of antiquated gender roles.

By Raphael Ranola, Opinions Editor

Reality is often stranger than fiction — and this holds true in politics. Recently, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an anti-drag bill into law. Subsequently, a 1977 high school yearbook photo of the very same governor wearing women’s clothing blew up on the Internet.

The irony is about as absurd as an article from The Onion.

Drag doesn’t necessarily involve nudity or stripping of any sort. It’s a form of art, just like any other theatrical performance. So why ban drag?

Well, the bill, titled Senate Bill 0003, doesn’t explicitly mention the word “drag.” Instead, it bans “adult cabaret,” defined as “adult-oriented performances” that include “male or female impersonators.”

What does “male or female impersonators” even mean?

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The language of the bill is vague for a reason: It will only be used to target people who are transgender and other gender-nonconforming individuals. 

People who are gender-nonconforming wear clothes that help present their chosen outward gender expression, though these clothes may not be the clothes associated with their biological sex. It is this sense of gender euphoria, which comes from wearing gender-affirming clothing, that promotes mental well-being and ultimately saves lives.

On the other hand, when Lee was 18 years old and wearing women’s clothing, he could walk away unscathed. This bill would not hurt him the way it would hurt trans people. 

Lee can — forgive my bluntness — cross-dress however he pleases because he is a white man, the most powerful group in the United States. The Tennessee governor doesn’t really fear cross-dressing — he fears trans people. As a young man, he dressed as a woman. As a powerful politician, he took away that ability for the people who really need it.

It’s currently unknown why the governor was wearing women’s clothes. Even if it was just a gag from Lee’s past now haunting him in the present, that in itself shows his privilege. Lee may have worn women’s clothes as a joke, but there are individuals who need to present in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

Here I reiterate: The ability to present in a way that makes people feel comfortable is lifesaving. 

A study highlighted in the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at levels of anxiety and depression in transgender children. Previous literature showed that transgender children have been found to have highly elevated rates of anxiety and depression, but this did not account for transgender children who have been accepted by their families and were allowed to present in the way that they want to.

The study found that transgender children who were accepted by their families and were permitted to socially transition had low levels of anxiety and depression. Social transitioning consists of reversible, nonmedical social interventions such as wearing different clothing, adopting a different set of pronouns and changing hair length. 

Ultimately, gender-affirming care saves lives.

Another danger of this legislation is that it paves the way for similar restrictions that will hurt everyone who does not look like Lee and his picturesque white family.

In January, Missouri’s House of Representatives came under criticism for its tightening of the women’s dress code, requiring female legislators and staff members to wear a jacket such as a cardigan or a blazer.

Discourse over dress codes is not uncommon. Pushback against longstanding conservative dress codes only increases as Congress becomes increasingly diverse in terms of gender and ethnic background. 

A theme develops: It’s all about control. Mandates on what can and cannot be worn hurt both women and the LGBTQ+ community and are intentionally set up to make states inhospitable to those who do not wish to adhere to traditional gender norms.

It is clear the Republican Party is slowly making moves to outlaw being transgender. It is clear the Republican Party is suppressing the ability to produce art through drag. It is clear the Republican Party is stifling creativity, self-expression and identity.

The “Grand Old Party,” which supposedly stands for fiscal responsibility and small government, has now become the party of micromanagement and culture wars. It’s apparent that the GOP has begun its slow descent into fascism. The days of Abraham Lincoln have long since passed.

Old Abe died a patron of the arts. I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded the existence of drag shows.


Raphael is a freshman in LAS.

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