Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee was forced to respond to a resurfaced photograph of him dressed as a woman in his high school yearbook as he prepares to sign an anti-drag show bill into law.
The legislation out of Tennessee, which would prohibit "adult-oriented" entertainment from public property and restrict it to age-restricted venues, is the latest attack from Republicans who have ramped up their attacks against LGBTQ+ people and used drag shows as a scapegoat.
In addition to classifying "male and female impersonators" as adult cabaret performers, the legislation bans "adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors," as defined in Tennessee's existing obscenity laws.
Lee said comparisons between the performances targeted by the legislation and an old yearbook photograph of him in drag were "ridiculous."
The photograph, from a 1977 Williamson County high school yearbook, shows a young Lee dressed as a woman, alongside girls dressed in suits and ties.
You can hear what Lee said in the video below.
When asked if he remembers dressing in drag back then and if it's "only illegal when gay people do it," Lee said:
"What a ridiculous, ridiculous question that is. Conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious subject!"
Lee could not point to any specific instances in which drag queens had ever sexualized children, only saying it is imperative to protect young children from "obscenity" even though Tennessee already has obscenity laws on the books. He refused to answer any more questions about the photograph in question and got into his vehicle to escape one persistent reporter.
Jade Byers, a spokesperson for Lee, later responded to questions about the photograph by repeating Lee's line about obscenity and claiming that "any attempt to conflate this serious issue with lighthearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families."
Lee has been highly criticized for his remarks.
The legislation Lee is prepared to sign is the latest attempt to legislate drag performances out of public spaces in response to right-wing conspiracies that drag performers are sexually abusing young children.
But the photograph of Lee is not the first time a Republican has been called out for dressing in drag despite speaking out against it and openly opposing LGBTQ+ equality.
Last spring, Tim James, an Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate, made headlines after he criticized a school for hosting a drag show only to be accused of hypocrisy after a photo from his high school yearbook showed James participating in his own school drag show.
An enterprising reporter found a photograph of James participating in his school's tradition of having football players dress in drag before games against rival teams, which James later called "ridiculous."