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Colorado county changes fairgrounds policy after drag show backlash

Colorado county changes fairgrounds policy after drag show backlash


Haley Lena, Colorado Community Media (via AP Storyshare)

CASTLE ROCK, Colorado – It’s not every day that a Douglas County commissioners’ meeting includes a quote of Rihanna lyrics.

Several area residents at the meeting expressed concern with a drag show event last year at the county fairgrounds in Castle Rock, a topic that gave way to a broader discussion about a parent’s ability to choose what kinds of entertainment their kids can view.

The meeting, on May 9, also heard accusations of indoctrination of children.

Joy Overbeck, a Parker resident, referenced videos of performances she took issue with.

She referred to a performer “belting out” a song with the lyrics: “I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it. Sex is in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me.”

Another performance, Overbeck claimed, involved young girls on stage performing in a drag dance contest, mimicking the dancers.

“This can only be called recruitment — promoting sexualization and sexual confusion to children,” Overbeck told county leaders.

Douglas County PrideFest held its annual event at the Douglas County Fairgrounds last summer. During a drag show at the celebration, a performer’s breast plate and false nipple were temporarily exposed.

Videos of the performance circulated on social media, where some commenters expressed frustration with the exposure at an event not designated for adults only. Organizers sent out an apology, saying it was not a planned part of the performance.

But the backlash continues even months later, ahead of this year’s planned PrideFest.

“There are movies that have an NC-17 rating where no one under the age of 18 is allowed. These drag queen shows should be treated exactly the same,” one commenter, who said she’s from Parker, told commissioners. “The purpose of an NC-17 over an R rating is because some parents don’t know what is wrong for their children.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve certain fairgrounds policy updates. It appeared that this year’s scheduled drag queen entertainment would proceed as planned, not limited to an adult audience.

One man argued the county shouldn’t allow performers to wear certain tight clothing in front of children, saying it’s “an oversexualization of our kids.”

“I think this is an erosion of families. It’s an erosion of family values,” Michael Campbell, of Castle Rock, told the commissioners. “And I do want to be clear: Nobody’s stating that we should limit people’s rights — rights to assembly, rights of freedom of speech and to be themselves — but I do think that the appropriate measure the county should take is to recognize that this is an adult-themed performance just like any other strip club, and it should not be allowed for children.”

Art Kerkezian, cochair with the Douglas County PrideFest, said the event last summer doesn’t represent the values of the Castle Rock Pride group and the PrideFest.

In contrast with the comments from the public, Kerkezian said he doesn’t believe that drag “in and of itself” is sexually explicit.

“It can be — just like a movie can be X rated or G rated,” Kerkezian said. “We have put in safeguards. As parents who are planning this event for our children, why would we want to put in anything sexual by nature in that regard?”

His group has a clause in its policies that prevents nudity at PrideFest, he added.

Those in his group “wholeheartedly disagree” with “taking away the right from our parents to be able to choose what is appropriate for their children,” he said.

“Douglas County was the cry of parents’ rights during the pandemic, and of parental right, whether or not their children should wear masks. These people are asking you to prohibit our parents from choosing what is appropriate for their children,” Kerkezian told the commissioners.

The group’s procedures will eliminate the sexual content of the lyrics and the activities that have been described as “sexual in nature,” he added.

“There is such a thing as a G-rated drag show, and we are here to prove that,” Kerkezian said.

County staff had proposed changes to the county’s fairgrounds facilities policies, including an updated mission statement to state that all events are to be “family friendly.”

Another proposed change outlined that event holders agree “not to operate anything similar to a sexually oriented business” as defined in the county’s zoning regulations, according to the document of fairgrounds policies.

The commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the fairgrounds policy updates.

Commissioner Abe Laydon appeared to push back on the tone of some comments during the meeting.

“We also recognize that in a community of nearly 400,000, not all families look exactly alike. And there are families that are different than your family and my family,” Laydon said. “I will say, you know, if your view is that pride and gay people are not welcome in Douglas County, I’m going to disagree with you, and so will the law. If your view is that all drag queens are evil and out to get children, I’m going to disagree with you, and so will virtually any drag queen.”

He continued: “We support freedom of expression and the Constitution, (and) we are not going to censor or book burn or tell people what they can or cannot say and express because then again we just become fascist dictators if we do that.”

Laydon said LGBTQ youth are more likely to die by suicide and that it’s important to share the message that there may be people that look differently than the “mainstream” and that that’s OK.

“It’s no secret that I am a Republican. I’m a Christian. I’m a father, and I’m also a member of the LGBTQ community. I support all of those groups, and those aren’t mutually exclusive. I believe that the God I believe in loves all people, and there’s really an opportunity to educate and inform one another at any age that that love exists,” Laydon continued.

After the Pride event, as videos of what happened circulated, Commissioner Lora Thomas met with Kerkezian and others, and they understood what went wrong, Thomas said at the commissioners’ meeting.

“They told me that there are parents who believe that drag is an art form and they want their kids to see it. I see people in the audience shaking their heads,” Thomas said. “We also receive, as commissioners, complaints from people that want us to stop prayer at the fair and the rodeo. And so we have to figure out how we balance the needs of the community.”

Thomas clarified during the meeting that PrideFest is not part of the county fair.

Castle Rock Pride is a nonprofit “building a supportive community in the Castle Rock and greater Douglas County areas for LGBTQ+ residents,” the organization’s website says.

The nonprofit offers community events and resources including monthly support groups, family meetups, educational opportunities and the annual PrideFest, its website says.

Set for Aug. 26 at the county fairgrounds, the Douglas County PrideFest includes local LGBTQIA+ supporting exhibitors, food and beverage vendors, and live performances, according to the website.

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