Yo La Tengo performed their Nashville show in drag on Monday night (March 13), in what appeared to be a protest of the state’s restrictive new drag law.
Earlier this month, Tennessee became the first US state to sign a law banning “adult cabaret” on public property or anywhere it could be seen by children, including “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers”.
The statute – which means a ban on drag performances in public spaces, set to take effect on April 1 – and similar laws, are reportedly being pushed in other Republic-run states.
yo la tengo protesting anti-drag laws tonight in tennessee, courtesy @JohnQBoxler. pic.twitter.com/kB6IvqUeZX
— jesse jarnow (parody, i think?) (@bourgwick) March 14, 2023
Ira and James playing in drag yesterday in Tennessee, in response to the anti-drag bill that passed just some weeks ago.
Yo La Tengo for president, someone said at Yellowjackets, and I agree.
[Photo by Chris Conrad, via FB] pic.twitter.com/Za6LTr2Jie
— Ethel Baraona Pohl (@ethel_baraona) March 14, 2023
For the second half of Yo La Tengo’s set at The Basement East, band members Ira Kaplan and James McNew returned dressed in drag before performing ‘This Stupid World’, according to The Tennessean.
Kaplan wore makeup along with a red dress and black wig, while McNew donned a shawl and sun hat.
The band made no direct mention of the new law, but said in a statement (via Pitchfork): “What we did last night couldn’t have been clearer, and requires no further comment.”
The band’s performative statement comes after The B-52s shared a social media post denouncing bills against drag artists and trans people in the US, the latter referring to separate legislation passed to restrict gender affirming-healthcare for transgender youth.
“Dear fellow citizens, We, The B-52’s, are deeply concerned about the numerous new bills that promote transphobia and discrimination against transgender individuals and drag artists, which have been introduced in the United States,” they wrote on Twitter.
Dear fellow citizens,
We, The B-52’s, are deeply concerned about the numerous new bills that promote transphobia and discrimination against transgender individuals and drag artists, which have been introduced in the United States. We strongly denounce these bills and stand in pic.twitter.com/mzMROe4pxE
— The B-52s (@TheB52s) March 8, 2023
“We strongly denounce these bills and stand in solidarity with out LGBTQ+ community.
Their statement also followed a statement from Paramore‘s Hayley Williams, who criticised the anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in her home state of Tennessee.
“Drag is not a crime. Gender-affirming healthcare for all, including our youth, is a necessity,” she wrote.
In a statement shared to The Tennessean, Stella Yarbrough, ACLU of Tennessee legal director, said: “I want to be abundantly clear: the law that was just signed does not make it illegal to perform in drag in Tennessee. The law bans obscene performances, and drag performances are not inherently obscene.
“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.”
Next week, Williams, Sheryl Crow and more are set to play an LGBTQ+ benefit concert in Tennessee.
Elsewhere, Bonnaroo has promised to remain a “safe haven for people of all walks of life” after the bill restricting public drag performances was passed.