Covering drag and free speech in Tennessee


Within just my first year as The Tennessean's inaugural First Amendment reporter, many remarkable issues have arisen, though one story in particular took the fight for freedom of expression to the national level: that of the state’s attempt to restrict drag performances through the law.

The story for me, anyway, started as many drag-related stories do: with sore feet and an insufferable number of outfit changes.

Instead of performing on a stage, however, swathed in glitter and creative costumes, I was driving at an ill-advised speed across the state of Tennessee at 1 a.m. in early October 2022. I had just traded the nude stilettos and maroon dress I wore for my twin's wedding rehearsal for a pair of beat-up boots and jeans to report on a drag performance in Jackson, Tennessee. A drag performance that, unbeknownst to me, would mark the very beginning of the massive cultural debate in the state.

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