Emil Guillermo: Celebrating Pride Month and Protecting Drag as Free Speech

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On Sunday, a non-binary Asian American dressed in tank top and short-shorts out for a Sunday stroll passed me in the North Beach area of San Francisco.

Good thing they were in San Francisco. No problem.

But it’s not that way in other parts of the nation, which is why the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee has given us all hope.

If you are a male within that great state and wish to wear a dress in public and crack jokes, go right ahead.

Make no mistake: that’s protected speech. And it’s not just because it’s Pride Month. You can do it anytime.

For that matter, if you are a born a female and are a “drag king,” you’re covered too.

No one will come running waving Tennessee’s Adult Entertainment Act (AEA) and arrest you as a criminal threatening minors.

That’s all thanks to Judge Thomas Parker, a Trump appointee who still believes in the Constitution.

On Friday, Parker opined, “[T[he Tennessee General Assembly can certainly use its mandate to pass laws that their communities demand. But that mandate as to speech is limited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which commands that laws infringing on the Freedom of Speech must be narrow and well-defined. The AEA is neither.”

And with that, the first law of more than 16 attempts nationwide to restrict drag performances has been shut down.

Judge Parker wrote that putting “female impersonators” in the same category with “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers,” did not pass strict scrutiny in 2023, and viewed such comparisons “with skepticism.”

And then he took issue with drag being “harmful to minors,” taking issue with the specific phrase. Parker wrote that “this phrase discriminates against the viewpoint of gender identity—particularly, those who wish to impersonate a gender that is different from the one which they are born.”

“Freedom of speech is not just about speech,” Parker wrote. “It is also about the right to debate with fellow citizens on self-government, to discover the truth in the marketplace of ideas, to express one’s identity and to realize self-fulfillment in a free society. That freedom is of first importance to many Americans such that the United States Supreme Court has relaxed procedural requirements for citizens to vindicate their right to freedom of speech, while making it harder for the government to regulate it.”

As the judge viewed it, the Tennessee General Assembly had simply gone too far.

It’s good to see there are reasonable conservatives like Parker, the aforementioned Trump appointee, who haven’t lost their sense of the Constitution. That’s worth noting, because the fight is only beginning.

Tennessee is just one of more than a dozen states that have been caught up in the wave of anti-drag, anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ sentiment fostered by Republican politics around the country.

It’s the great rollback of freedoms driven by hate.

In a divided America, it’s become a fight for every inch.

As a kid growing up a few blocks from the Castro Theater in San Francisco, I know the changes that have taken place in the last 50 years. As a reporter, I remember covering the first Gay Pride parades in the city.

It would be hard to imagine society going backwards.

But some in our society want us to go in reverse.

Judge Parker’s ruling comes at just the right time. It’s the reminder that the tool that protects our freedoms and our progress is exactly what makes America great–our Constitution.

Take pride in that this month too.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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