Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo | Photo by Cheryl Dunn

Yo La Tengo Perform in Drag to Protest Tennessee Law Restricting Drag Shows

Two-thirds of American indie rock band Yo La Tengo performed in drag for part of their recent show in Nashville, protesting a controversial new Tennessee bill passed this month which heavily restricts where drag shows can take place in the state.

As The Tennessean reports, the band played a show at Nashville venue The Basement East on Monday, 13th March. After a brief intermission following the first half of the set, the band returned with members Ira Kaplan and James McNew in drag – Kaplan wearing makeup, a red dress and a long black wig, and McNew wearing a shawl and sun hat.

Yo La Tengo: “What We Did Last Night Couldn’t Have Been Clearer”

The band did not mention the wardrobe change onstage, and issued a statement the following day through their label: “What we did last night couldn’t have been clearer, and requires no further comment.”

Tennessee State Bill 3, which was signed earlier this month by Tennessee governor Bill Lee, bans public “adult cabaret performance” in the state of Tennessee, limiting it to age-restricted venues. Included in its definition of such performances are “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.”

The bill has faced strong criticism from campaigners who argue that drag is not an inherently adult art form and that the bill’s vague definition could mean consequences for performers and venues. While not banning drag outright in the state, advocates have also expressed concern that the bill’s passing could open the door for even more restrictive legislation.

The bill is part of a crop of new legislation targeting Tennessee’s LGBTQ+ community. Governor Lee also recently outlawed access to gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth, while legislation approved just this week by Republican senators would potentially prevent trans people from changing their self-identified gender on their driver’s licenses and birth certificates.

Next Monday (20th March), artists including Paramore‘s Hayley Williams, Alabama ShakesBrittany Howard, Jason Isbell, Maren Morris, Sheryl Crow, Julien Baker and more will perform a benefit concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena in opposition to the legislation. Funds raised from the concert will go to the Tennessee Equality Project, Inclusion Tennessee, OUTMemphis and the Tennessee Pride Chamber in partnership with the Looking Out Foundation.

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