Yo La Tengo cross-dresses to protest Tennessee’s drag ban

Yo La Tengo in concert at Tibidabo Live Festival on September 4, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
Yo La Tengo in concert at Tibidabo Live Festival on September 4, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock

The cisgender male members of the indie rock band Yo La Tengo dressed in drag during their Nashville concert earlier this week to protest Tennessee’s new ban on “obscene” drag performances.

During the second half of the band’s show at The Basement East live music venue, Yo La Tengo frontman Ira Kaplan appeared in makeup, a wig, and a dress, while bass player James McNew appeared in a sun hat and a knit shawl, according to photos taken at the event.

While the band didn’t specifically mention the drag law during their performance, in a statement to the music publication Pitchfork, the band said, “What we did last night couldn’t have been clearer, and requires no further comment.”

Though Tennessee was the first U.S. state to pass a law to restrict drag performances, Republican legislators have introduced at least 40 similar bills in state legislatures across the country.

In a statement, ACLU of Tennessee legal director Stella Yarbrough said that the law does not make drag performances illegal in the state. The law only bans drag performances that are “harmful to minors.”

“The legal definition for ‘harmful to minors’ in Tennessee is very narrow and only covers extreme sexual or violent content with no artistic value,” Yarbrough said. “Drag performances do not inherently fall into this category and are protected by the First Amendment.”

Yarbrough also said that the ACLU would “challenge enforcement of this law if it is used to punish a drag performer or shut down a family-friendly LGBTQ event.”

ACLU of Tennessee’s Henry Seaton told NPR that the real purpose of the law is to isolate and criminalize transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

Musical performers will gather in Nashville on March 20 for a “Love Rising” concert opposing Tennessee’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. The stars will include indie rocker Sheryl Crow, singer Maren Morris, and Irish musician Hozier. The concert’s proceeds will benefit the Tennessee Equality Project, Inclusion Tennessee, Out Memphis, and the Tennesee Pride Chamber.

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