Bill Lee confirmed Monday that he would sign a recently passed bill criminalizing drag performances in public and in front of children, a photo of him dressed in drag as a high school student The shows, had already begun to circulate on Reddit and Twitter.
Just before midnight on Saturday, a Reddit user shared an image that showed Lee as a high school student wearing a short-skirted cheerleader uniform, pearl necklaces and a wig, with two girls in men’s suits. is seen showing in a school playground next to. The caption says, “Governor Bill Lee in drag (1977 High School Yearbook).”
In a later post, the Reddit user, who did not respond to a request for comment, referred to the drag bill on the governor’s desk, saying, “I’m sure it will be signed, but the hypocrisy needs to be poked already.” needed.” They come after they play in Nashville or after Rocky Horror at Belcourt twice a year,” in reference to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a popular Nashville dance club and gender-bending musical.
Answering questions from reporters on Monday, Lee, a Republican, said he would sign the drag bill in addition to a separate law that would prohibit gender-affirming care for state minors. He was then asked if he remembered “dressing in drag in 1977” and it appeared that he was shown a copy of the image. He neither confirmed nor denied whether it was him in the picture or not.
“What a ridiculous, ridiculous question,” Lee responded in an exchange recorded and shared on Twitter by The Tennessee Holler, a local news site. “To do something like this in front of children for sexual entertainment, which is a very serious matter.”
Lee’s press secretary Jed Cooper Byers would not confirm whether it was Lee in the yearbook photo. Byers said in an email that “any attempt to mix this serious issue with light-hearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families.”
The school tradition Byers is most likely referring to is a powderpuff football game, in which boys dress as girls and vice versa during homecoming week. Byers did not respond to a follow-up question seeking clarification.
While the incident photographed in the yearbook would meet most definitions of “drag,” it is not necessarily illegal under Tennessee’s newly passed drag bill, which specifically bans “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a discerning interest” by performing in public or in front of children.
A spokesperson for Lee’s former high school, Franklin High School in Franklin, confirmed in an email that the image is from the school’s 1977 yearbook and “appears to be Bill Lee.” However, the spokesperson, Corey Mason, cautioned that there is no caption “or any other form of identification” to accompany the photo.
The school’s 1977 yearbook, which includes an image showing Lee in drag, can also be found at Ancestry.com, an American high school yearbook database.
The image comes less than a week after Tennessee legislators passed a bill to ban “adult cabaret performances” in public or in front of children. It defines “adult cabaret” performers as “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, who provide entertainment that appeals to a discerning interest, or similar entertainment.” , whether performed for consideration or not.”
Proponents of the adult cabaret bill, including Lee, say the law is needed to protect children from exposure to inappropriate entertainment. Critics say it unfairly targets an art form long associated with LGBTQ people and culture and largely portrays all drag as vulgar and sexist.
Following Lee’s Monday comments, some drag performers criticized his opposition to comparing the yearbook image to a drag performance, calling his response “hypocritical”.
“He’s saying: ‘It’s okay for straight people to do it, but not for the gay community,'” said Dennis Sadler, 38, who has been performing drag in Nashville for more than two decades. “That’s the message he’s giving people.”
While Tennessee is expected to become the first state to pass such a ban on drag performances, it may soon have company. Republican legislators in at least a dozen other states have introduced similar measures this year, according to an NBC News analysis.
The image showing Lee in drag isn’t the first picture in his yearbook that has made national news. In 2019, he apologized after an image surfaced of him wearing a Confederate uniform in the 1980 Auburn University yearbook.