Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee has already faced criticism for his college days’ Confederate soldier costume. Now that a high school yearbook photo of him dressed as a woman has surfaced, critics are accusing Lee of being hypocritical as he prepares to sign a law outlawing drag shows in his state.
The law, which Lee claims he’ll sign once it reaches his desk, prohibits “adult-oriented entertainment” deemed “harmful to minors,” including “male or female impersonators,” from public spaces or events where children might be present. Nevertheless, a 1977 yearbook photo from a high school in Williamson County that surfaced on social media is currently making the rounds, and it sparked an irate response from Lee.
When asked if he “recalled dressed in drag in 1977,” Lee responded to a reporter at a news conference on Monday with, “What a foolish, ridiculous question that is,” according to WZTV. Lee continued to criticize the reporter, saying, “You’re confusing something like that with sexualized entertainment in front of youngsters, which is a really serious problem.”
According to NBC News, the image depicts the person reportedly Lee suited out in a cheerleader’s outfit—complete with miniskirt, wig, and pearl necklace—alongside what appear to be two girls wearing men’s outfits. In a statement, Lee’s press secretary stated that “any attempt to combine this serious problem [of drag performances] with lighter school customs is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families.” Lee did not confirm or deny that he was in the picture.
However, a representative from Franklin High School confirms to NBC that the image is definitely from the school’s 1977 yearbook and that the individual in it “appears to be Bill Lee,” who attended that institution, and that “the event captured in the yearbook would match most definitions of ‘drag’.” Longtime Nashville drag performer: “He’s saying, ‘It’s Acceptable for straight people to do it, but not the homosexual community.’”
Anyone who violate the anti-drag law, which has been approved by both the state’s House and Senate, would be charged with a misdemeanor for the first violation and a felony for a subsequent infraction. According to an NBC investigation, at least a dozen other states are considering legislation of a similar nature. Tennessee would be the first state to enact such a law.