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Kentville All-Ages Drag Show Draws Protests – We Talk To Those Involved

Ed. Note: Featured image is for illustrative purposes only.

A planned family-friendly Disney-themed drag show in Kentville is facing protests from some area residents.

The Drag Me To Dinner show at King’s Arms Pub by Lew Murphy’s is meant to be a time for 2SLGBTQIA+ kids and their parents to celebrate, but drag performer and organizer Queera Bang says moving forward with the sold-out event has been anything but joyous.

With a protest planned outside the venue on the day of the event and controversy surrounding the appropriateness of the content for younger ages, Bang is trying harder than ever to create a safe space for attendees.

Photo: Eventbrite

“It’s Pride month in June, and children and their parents have been asking me to host an event like this. I wanted to make sure I gave the queer kids in this area what they had asked for,” they said.

“This was a unique and viable event, and at the end of the day, this was for all the people who felt they needed this event.”

Bang has been hosting monthly drag shows since October 2022 with the Lew Murphy company, but this is their first for children. They discussed their own experiences as a child in Mississauga, Ont., and the lack of representation they saw around them. They wished they’d had people to look up to.

“I’ve been in the valley for just over a decade. I went to a conservative high school in Ontario, and we had no GSA or anything. The first time there was a planned Pride Week event, parents came and ripped posters down. It was a frowned upon thing, in my experience,” they said.

“The big thing for me right now is building a safe community for 2SLGBTQIA+ kids in rural areas. Kids living here who are queer or gender-diverse don’t see representation in their community, and that can be isolating. We can create a community where there are people they can look up to.”

Kasey Kenneally is a Berwick, N.S. resident and co-organizer of protest against the King’s Arms event. A Facebook group to organize a “peaceful demonstration” of the event has been started. A counter-protest – dubbed Come Together – will also occur, with a day of live music and entertainment for those who support the event.

CALL TO ACTION! 🤬👊 Drag events + children = FUCK NO! Stand with us or stand against us. Either way, we're shutting…

Posted by Kasey Kenneally on Saturday, May 13, 2023

Kenneally says she’s not against the 2SLGBTQIA+ or drag community, but wants the events to be 18+ and not attended by children.

“This is the first drag event in this area that’s been all-ages. I’ve been following these drag shows for kids for some time, and from live footage and videos I’ve seen, it’s just simply not appropriate for children,” said Keneally.

“I don’t have an issue with drag or the LGBTQ community, but I only have an issue with shows for children. Drag is and has traditionally been entertainment for adults.”

Posts from Kenneally on Facebook reference the word “grooming”, a word largely associated with those who believe the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is attempting to abuse children. Keneally says her use of the vernacular refers to something else.

“I support the right to do drag shows. I’m not accusing drag queens of being pedophiles. When I use the term ‘grooming’, it’s meant to be about them conditioning children. Children have impressionable minds … Exposing them to that lifestyle at a young age can cause confusion and make them question things,” she said.

“We’ve never needed drag shows before for children to realize who they are. It’s not something that’s ever been necessary … Who kids feel they are, who they want to be as a person and who they like as a person is their right and freedom. But they should learn about these things as they grow – It shouldn’t be taught to them. Kids aren’t asking to go to these events. No three-year-old is asking their Mom to take them to a show with men dressed as women.”

Kenneally says the culture in 2023 is such that there’s “just as much” on TV and in society about gay relationships and gender identity as there is straight content.

“Not everything is focused solely on heterosexuality. There’s no denying that back in the day, it wasn’t something that was accepted widely. But we now live in a society where straight, gay, bisexual and drag is considered perfectly normal. There’s so much inclusivity already I don’t think having a child audience is necessary for kids to feel validated,” she said.

Kenneally has never been to a drag show herself, but says what she’s seen through videos has been “largely sexualized” entertainment.

“Kids do need people to look up to, but there are other ways to learn about this without involving them in what is and always has been adult entertainment. You have Pride month, you have it being taught and accepted all over in schools, and there are parades,” she said.

“In the videos I’ve seen, the way these queens were dressed, the provocative dancing they were doing in front of children, and the books they were reading – They were about gender identity. They weren’t reading kids stories … It may not be this way for this specific event, but if we keep allowing this, I’m terrified about having kids watching men dress that way, twerking, and being inappropriate. And that’s what could be in the future.”

Bang says the inclusivity Kenneally speaks of isn’t as widespread in the Valley – or the province, Atlantic Canada, or Canada – as is being assumed.

“I’m a Co-Coordinator of Annapolis Valley Pride, and there hasn’t been a Pride in the Annapolis Valley before this year. The family-friendly event this year for Pride is a drag story-time. What’s the harm in there being more? I don’t understand why this is a contentious issue,” they said.

They referred to Shakespearian era, when drag referred to boys dressing as women for stage-plays, because females were not allowed to be in shows and plays in Britain.

“It had nothing to do with sexuality then, and it still doesn’t. Because of the politics and history, we as queer people have been relegated to night clubs and bars. A lot of drag in the last 100 years has been underground and for adults,” they said.

“Whether it’s a movie, theatre professionals, rock bands or pop stars, everyone performs for adults and children, and there’s nothing inherently sexual. It’s about context, and this event is family-oriented. We’re focused on Disney music for this, and most performers will be dressed like Disney characters or princesses.”

Despite the fact the event is sold out, Bang says that progress, inclusivity and representation are not where society thinks it is. A school in Pictou County saw a protest on May 18th, 2023, over trans students’ right to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, and drag events for children were protested in Moncton, N.B. and P.E.I. in the last two months.

In Halifax, a Pride flag at Tantallon school Bay View High was burned in late April, following the destruction of a north-end woman’s Pride flag on April 5. Police also reported a complaint in the Spryfield area, where two people in their early teens allegedly ripped a Pride flag down outside a home on May 7.

Const. John MacLeod, spokesman for Halifax Regional Police, has previously said investigators believe the events were “motivated by hate.”

“We recognize that these are harmful to people in our community … We want to let the community know that they should contact us if they encounter incidents like this,” he said.

Queera Bang called the first two days following the announcement of the protests “terrifying”.

“As a person living in this community, it was really tough. It quickly changed to support from people locally and throughout the province. A lot of the hate is coming from people in Alberta and Ontario. Local folks, businesses and people in the valley and Halifax have been mostly supportive,” they said.

“There is a lot of queer representation in media and popular culture. But we don’t see a lot of gender-diverse representation, and every performer in this show is gender-diverse. There have been messages and comments on social regarding transphobia. We’ve seen memes representing beating up people going into the wrong bathroom. This isn’t but about drag.”

Bang stresses it’s important to recognize the difference between true allyship and just engaging passively.

“There’s this whole idea that times have changed and (2SLGBTQIA+ issues) are at the forefront. There’s an idea that everything is fine, and we shouldn’t rock the boat. But for the queer community, it goes beyond sideline acceptance because we still see hate crimes and an uptake in regulations and rhetoric around violence and restricting rights,” they said.

Beginning on March 5, 2023, Tennessee became the first U.S. state to explicitly ban drag shows in public spaces, launching a plethora of anti-drag bills across the country. Bang says the current state-of-affairs could see dire issues should those policies move north.

“Allyship is standing up to these issues and being engaged in your community … Right now, if I as an individual – not even as a drag performer – travel to some states, I could be violently and lawfully hurt,” they said.

A reference during her interview to 1993 box-office smash Mrs. Doubtfire – featuring a man who disguises as an elderly nanny to spend time with his estranged kids – began a conversation with protest organizer Kenneally about context.

“It wasn’t considered drag. The context of the movie wasn’t revolved around drag. It’s not that we’re saying kids can’t see men dressed up or women dressed up in costume. It’s not about how you identify, it’s the business aspect of it. Queens get paid to entertain adults and it revolves around sexualization and adult comedy,” she said.

“It’s not like men dressing up as Santa Claus, and there’s a big difference there.”

Asked about whether she supports equal rights for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, Kenneally says she is “very open” about her opinions.

“While I do not necessarily support the idea of trans, I do absolutely support their right to exist. I’m not saying these people should be shunned by society by any means. They’re no different.”

She says the protest isn’t rooted in hate toward the queer community, but comes from “a mother’s need” to protect children.

“The events for children are out there. The opportunity is out there. The previously generation didn’t see the community be so widely accepted. Now this is completely accepted by the majority of people … I don’t see how not having these events would make children feel less accepted,” said Kenneally.

She also notes she has made clear that she does not condone or wish to incite violence at the protest, and those who become aggressive will be asked to leave.

“I’m just making a stance for what I believe is wrong. Unfortunately, the attempt to have people understand from our perspective has seen us labelled as hateful bigots. I’m not denying people like that exist, but I’m not new to protests and demonstrations. The only violence I’ve seen or signs of actual aggression are coming from opposing parties,” she said. “I’ve gotten threats and messages, my work has been harassed, and they called the cops on me. That’s what they’re doing, and we’re trying to explain they’re wrong about this.”

Facebook supporters are being encouraged to call MLAs, councillors, and King’s Arm to voice their displeasure. An email to Progressive Conservative MLA for Kings North John Lohr for an interview was not returned.

The King’s Arms Pub owner Joey Murphy replied to an email for an interview request, but declined to comment past the statement posted on his company’s social media.

My position on this matter is clear and firm. This is the one, and only, statement that I will be releasing in regards to the issue.

Posted by Kings Arms Pub by Lew Murphy's on Monday, May 15, 2023

“I support inclusivity and diversity in my community. I respect and support everyone’s right to make their own choices and to live their own lives. I support all members of my community with the exception of anyone who shares hate and misinformation,” says the post.

Organizer Bang is thankful for Murphy and the way he’s handled the situation and supported their event from beginning to now.

“He’s said he has broad shoulders and he can take it. He’s taking the brunt. They’re calling his establishment, swearing at his staff, and he’s been so communicative through this whole thing. I’m overwhelmed by the support from him,” they said.

“The only important thing Is these kids enjoy themselves. It’s not about protests or counter-protests. It’s not about my politics or queer politics. It’s about the people who bought tickets and who wanted to be there. People are choosing to come, and there are a whole lot of kids coming. We made this event for kids who wanted something like this, and the difference between me and Kasey (Keneally) is I listened to what they asked for.”

Diana B. Tease – a performer for the event – says they have been working with Queera Bang to bring drag to more rural areas in the province, and the Drag Me To Dinner event was meant to be a great show for all ages.

“This is something Queera and I both would have wanted when we were kids. If I’d been exposed to drag when I was a kid, my little brain would have opened up so much more. Now seeing the pushback, our motivation to be a beacon of light to show kids there are successful queer people doing big things is even more important,” they said.

Tease grew up in Enfield, and didn’t have anyone to look up to or any way to learn about queer topics or sexuality when they were younger.

“We had one queer educator come for one day to discuss dangers of unprotected sex. They happened to be gay and discussed AIDS and HIV. That was the only queer exposure I had,” they said.

Tease refers to actors like Brad Pitt – an A-lister who’s had steamy sex scenes in films like Mr. & Mrs. Smith and also appeared in animated fare like Megamind. She says all performers can cater what they do to different, unique audiences.

“Drag performers have certain content for 18+ shows that aren’t appropriate for children. But we’re very conscious of the target on our back when we perform that content, and we edit ourselves and choose what to perform and do based on the audience. You’ll find me in more clothes during that show than anyone else in the room. I’ll have four pairs of tights on and a full bodysuit. Drag can be sexual, but it’s not just sexual in nature,” she said.

While she she’s seen Kenneally saying she doesn’t want violence at the protest, Tease believes things like this can set scary things in motion.

“These organizers can have the best intentions and tell us it’s about keeping children safe. But they’re holding that door open for hateful people and extremists who have all sorts of negative views on queer people. They’re holding the door open for them to create a dangerous atmosphere,” they said.

At the end of the day, Tease is ready for herself and all the performers to show the kids attending that they can be unabashedly who they are without shame or fear.

“For those queer people in rural areas, it’s important for them to realize that people like them exist year-round. It’s not about just being loud during Pride Week. Queerness is not just a party. It touches every part of our lives. We want to come out all the time, to every place, and show people what it means to be queer and happy,” they said.

Jordan Parker is a freelance journalist and owner of Parker Public Relations.

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