Yo La Tengo Performed In Drag At Tennessee Show To Protest State’s Anti-Drag Legislation

Performing in drag publicly isn’t illegal unless it is “obscene.” But who gets to decide?

Indie rock band, Yo La Tengo, played a show at The Basement East in Nashville, Tennessee on Monday. They didn’t just play their legendary music for the crowd: they used their second set to protest Tennessee’s anti-drag laws. At the top of the second set, frontman Ira Kaplan and bass player James McNew came out on stage dressed up in women’s clothes, AKA, in drag. Kaplan sported a black wig and red dress (very femme fatale) while McNew rocked a sun hat and shawl (more of a mom at the beach vibe).

Yo La Tengo did not make any official statement to the laws when speaking to the crowd. They let their clothes do the talking.

Along with a slew of anti-gay and anti-trans legislation across the country, Tennessee recently passed the first ban on public drag performances. Gov. Bill Lee, who also signed a bill banning transgender health care for people under the age of 18, signed HB 9, making “a person who engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property” — or where it can be viewed by minors — a criminal offense. A first-time offender will be charged with a misdemeanor. A second or subsequent violation would be a Class E felony. The bill includes “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers” in the definition of “adult cabaret performance.”

In a statement to The Tennessean, Stella Yarbrough, the legal director at the ACLU of Tennessee, said that she wanted to make it “abundantly clear” that the law does not make it illegal to perform in drag. “The law bans obscene performances, and drag performances are not inherently obscene,” Yarbrough said. “However, we are concerned that government officials could easily abuse this law to censor people based on their own subjective viewpoints of what they deem appropriate, chilling protected free speech and sending a message to LGBTQ Tennesseans that they are not welcome in our state.”

What Yo La Tengo didn’t wasn’t necessarily illegal but like the band said in a statement to Pitchfork, “What we did last night couldn’t have been clearer, and requires no further comment.”

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