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HBO’s ‘We’re Here’ drag show in St. George draws the ire of some on the city council

Linda Stay speaks to the St. George City Council on June 2. She has three queer children and said it’s important for them, and other LGBTQ people, to feel safe being themselves.
Lexi Peery
Linda Stay speaks to the St. George City Council on June 2. She has three queer children and said it’s important for them, and other LGBTQ people, to feel safe being themselves.

LGBTQ community members and allies packed the St. George City Council meeting Thursday night, after days of controversy leading up to a drag show planned for Friday night in Town Square Park.

City staff approved the show’s special event permit on May 31, though some on the council aren’t happy about it. Council member Michelle Tanner posted to Facebook after the meeting that “a majority” of the council was against the permit and wanted the city to find a “more appropriate location.” She wrote she’s concerned about children seeing the show since it’s in a public park near popular family attractions.

St. George City spokesperson David Cordero said the permits were “handled administratively” and that the applicant “paid in full” for the use of space.

Morgan Barrick, speaking on behalf of Pride of Southern Utah leadership, encouraged people to attend the council meeting and speak in support of the performance and the LGBTQ community to “show that we’re here and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Pride Month is about love, inclusion, safety, and in a time when we should be progressing, I hope we're not regressing in our love and acceptance for every member of our community, despite our differences,” she said to the council. “I want to invite you to come [to the drag show] and see that we aren't here to make a political stance. We're here to spread love in our community.”

In response to Tanner’s concerns about the nature of the show, Barrick said minors need to have a parent or guardian’s signature to attend. She added, the show is not provocative and highlights her community by having “people dressing up and performing a family-friendly song.”

The drag show is organized by HBO’s “We’re Here.” The series, made up of renowned drag queens, films in small towns across America in an effort to “spread love and connection … through the art of drag.” The cast recruits local residents to perform in drag and follows their journey to the event.

Show creators Johnnie Ingram and Stephen Warren said in a statement to KUER Friday morning “the challenges we have faced in St. George reveal the hidden forces that don’t want LGBTQ people to be visible, to gather and to celebrate.”

“Tonight’s show will go on and is a step in the right direction for the community,” they said. “We believe it’s important to stand up for what you believe in and to see the local community stand up for us and their right to exist and celebrate in such a majestic and welcoming town is inspiring. That’s the meaning of ‘We’re Here’ and we hope that our show is just the beginning of many, many more.”

In an interview later that same day, Ingram said holding the event in Town Square was on purpose, they wanted to be very visible, particularly during Pride Month. He expects this to be one of the most highly attended events the show, which is in its third season, has ever held.

It’s important for children and families to see that there’s “a lot of love out there for people in the LGBTQ community,” he said.

“[Drag] is an art form that is controversial, I guess,” Ingram said. “But what you’re going to see tonight is more of self-expression, of love, acceptance and the hopes for a brighter future.”

Just over a dozen residents spoke during the public comment portion of the city council meeting. Most shared their support and love for the LGBTQ community, and some shared their personal experiences.

Standing in front of the council, August Carter Nelson was visibly shaking. He talked about being a transgender man and asked the elected officials to protect people like him.

“I understand that for you, being a city councilor is a part-time job, but for me, being trans is something I have to deal with every single day,” he said “I’m terrified to stand in front of you and say that because there are people who want to erase people like me from the city, from the state, from this country. But like the HBO show says, we’re here. We have always been here. There is no world where you wake up one day and queer people no longer exist.”

Updated: June 3, 2022 at 1:04 PM MDT
Additional comment from series creator Johnnie Ingram was added to the story. August Carter Nelson's first name was misspelled in an earlier version.
Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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