When the band of drag queens, LGBTQ activists and their followers descend on Soldotna this coming Saturday for a gay pride march and public celebrations of sexual identities, they will be met by a group of concerned citizens.
The June 3 “Pride in the Park,” has become an annual event in which radical LGBTQ activists parade through town exhibiting myriad sexualities before gathering at a local park for variety shows that include sexually suggestive drag queen dancers, costume contests and the celebration of “queer joy for all ages.”
Last year’s event sparked heated controversy after a video of Anchorage drag queen Brenden Badd went viral. It shows a man wearing a costume that appears to be a miniskirt and a thong as he twerks and does backflips in front of young children. Another performances included Badd in a leather miniskirt gyrating just a few feet in front of minors.
In the weeks following last year’s incident, concerned citizens flooded the Soldotna City Council chambers demanding that they limit lewd displays of public behavior in city parks. After multiple meetings, the council ultimately declined – in a 4-2 vote – to place new restrictions on the Pride in the Park performances.
Longtime local conservative activist Toby Burke is now working to assemble a group of parents, grandparents, families and other concerned residents to stage a counter protest.
The idea of letting drag queens perform before for kids was developed in 2015 by LGBTQ activists in San Francisco.
“The town fathers in Soldotna are very weak about this,” Burke said. “They are going to let them get on stage and twerk in front of kids in one of the biggest playgrounds and park in the city.”
Over the past year, Burke and others have argued before the city council that the local government has the lawful authority to regulate specific types of speech in public spaces.
“There are certain types of free speech that can be heavily regulated, just like exotic, sexual dancing that can only be in certain places at certain times,” Burke said. “Access has to be limited, usually in enclosed buildings with no children allowed.”
The idea of letting drag queens perform before for kids was developed in 2015 by LGBTQ activists in San Francisco with the launch of drag queen story hours – a concept that has since spread all over the country. Over the past few months, however, backlash against these shows – especially those targeting children – has led several states such as Florida and Tennessee, to enact restrictions on when and where drag queens and can perform.
“We’ve made this argument many times to the Soldotna City Council and all we get is blank stares,” Burke said of other places which have regulated drag performances. “They basically don’t want to do anything. A lot of us testified and wrote letters to the council saying that this is about public decency. They keep falling back – saying that as long as aren’t taking their clothes off on stage, then it’s legal.”
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Last year was the first time Burke could recall there being a public drag queen performance in Soldotna.
“The vast majority of citizens do not want this event to go on. We do not want drag queens, and we’ve never had them in any of our libraries,” he said. “This is the first place it has happened because they were flying under the radar, but because the council isn’t going to do anything about it, now they are going to perform right out in the open.”
The LGBTQ activists will begin their march at 12 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center. From there, they will wave rainbow flags and carry signs as they walk 1.7 miles to Soldotna Creek Park. From 1-5 p.m. Pride in the Park will unfold with food, music, costume contests and at least four scheduled drag performers.
The counter protesters plan to assemble on Saturday, June 3, at 11:45 a.m. They will gather at the Funny River Light on the intersection of Kalifornsky Beach Road and the Sterling Highway. Eventually, they will set up at Soldotna Creek Park, where the LGBTQ parade ends.
“I really feel that it is our duty, if our town fathers are going to fail us, then we have to step in the breach and do the right thing,” Burke said.
— For more information about the counter protest, contact Toby Burke at (907) 335-1558.