Story by Serena Vasudeva | Contributing Writer
Murfreesboro’s LGBT pride festival has been denied future events permits by the city following a drag queen performance deemed by a letter from City Manager Craig Tindall to be “far from ‘family friendly’ and clearly unsuitable for ‘all ages.’”10.18.22-TN-Equality-Project-Foundation
BoroPride took place on Sept. 17 in Cannonsburgh Village, a historic park owned by the city. The Tennessee Equality Project has put on the event annually since 2016.
“There is a growing trend around the country to attack pride celebrations and in particular the place of drag shows in those events,” TEP Executive Director Chris Sanders said in an email to MTSU Sidelines. “We do not accept these attacks or the rationale behind them and we are currently reviewing all our options to defend and continue BoroPride.”
Middle Tennessee State University student Ashton Beatty learned of the letter and reached out to Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland to confirm its validity. Here is McFarland’s response that Beatty provided to MTSU Sidelines:
The type of ‘drag show’ is not acceptable on public parks property where kids are present. I saw the videos and couldn’t believe people would have kids at a show like what was conducted.
The group is welcome to have whatever event they want to conduct on private property, but Parks and Recreation property was not designed for these types of uses.
This is not about a group or organization, but about what is acceptable on public government property. We would not allow any group to hold these types of activities, for example we wouldn’t allow a bike club to have a ‘swimsuit or wet T-shirt contest.’ These things are just common sense where children could be present and it’s a shame that the use of the park was taken advantage of in the way it was.Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland in an email to MTSU student Ashton Beatty
Beatty strongly disagreed with McFarland’s comparison between the drag show and a swimsuit contest, which proved to him that officials did not want pride to happen on city property.
“I have never seen McFarland make these kinds of statements about other events such as the alt-right rally which occurred here in 2017,” Beatty said. “The city did ban them, but there was no comparison to a vulgar wet t-shirt contest.”
He said that the drag queens in the video did seem risque, but that it wasn’t as overtly sexual as McFarland described.
McFarland did not respond to MTSU Sidelines for comment.
Adam Peavy, whose stage name is Turtle, sang on stage at BoroPride. He understood the concerns listed in the letter but felt BoroPride was stripped of its future permits too quickly.
“There wasn’t even sort of a warning or anything,” Peavy said. “It just doesn’t sound like they’re willing to work something out or come to a compromise.”
Peavy said most attendants came for the afternoon festival, which connected people with resources like HIV testing, LGBT-friendly businesses and nonprofits. He fears that, without BoroPride, people in the Murfreesboro area may struggle to find these resources.
“If they had a problem with the drag show, then it would suck not to have one, but you could still have a pride festival without doing a drag show,” Peavy said. Most of the show was family-friendly, except for one drag queen’s performance that contained some swearing, he said.
Alex McClain, who attended the event, agreed with Peavy, though he mentioned a performer grinded against the stage during his performance.
“I think the drag queen that I mentioned tended to have a more older audience, so maybe (the performer) didn’t quite take that into account,” McClain said. “I would say on the whole, pretty much everyone was suitable for minors. Just maybe one or two people got a little carried away.”
McClain described the outfits as more modest than bikinis. Some drag performers wore leotards with holes in them while others wore what he described as a gown. Tyler Schott, another attendee, recalled plaid shirts, trucker outfits and latex v-necks.
Tindall’s letter appeared to reference a video posted to Twitter by Robby Starbuck, a former conservative congressional candidate. The events depicted by the video violated city code, McFarland said.
Starbuck is a former congressional candidate who recently attended “The Rally to End Child Mutilation” in Nashville, according to a Tennessee Lookout report. The rally happened in Nashville on October 21 and protested gender-affirming surgeries and care for minors.
MTLambda President Zofia Zagalsky saw Starbuck’s video of the drag performance at BoroPride and felt the city’s actions were unjustified, comparing the drag show to concerts done by Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Cardi B.
Zagalsky hopes TEP’s legal team will be able to overturn the city’s decision, which she believes is unconstitutional.
“There’s more skin covered in these (drag shows) than there is at any NFL football game, by any cheerleader ever,” she said.
Michael Browning, Murfreesboro’s Public Information Officer, told MTSU Sidelines “the letter, which you may have seen since it has been shared on social media, speaks for itself.”
The letter alleges that BoroPride violated two city codes. The first, Murfreesboro City Code 4-88, deals with BoroPride’s beer garden and prohibits sexually-explicit entertainment where beer is sold. Exempt groups include those of literary, artistic, scientific or political value.
Peavy said that the drag show did not feature exposure as outlined in the code. Many who objected believe that BoroPride’s drag show fell into the “artistic” exemption.
The second code, Murfreesboro City Code 21-73, deals with exposing minors to harmful material. It defines “harmful to minors” as any description or representation of nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement when it appeals to a “shameful or morbid interest of minors” or “is offensive to the standards in the adult community as a whole with respect for what is suitable material to minors.” Exempt groups also include those that have literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
“Kids go to concerts. Kids go to football games,” Zagalsky said. “Everyone understands that performers dance on stage.”
“The only children there were kids that parents chose to bring there,” Schott said. “It felt like everyone who brought their kids there knew what they were getting into.”
Beatty described last year’s BoroPride, where the police were nice and weddings took place. He spent time handing out gender-affirming clothes to teens, some of whom were transgender and not yet out to their parents.
“I cried a little,” he said. “It was great seeing youth being accepted for once.”
Beatty is working to arrange a letter-writing campaign with LGBT organizations at MTSU. If that doesn’t work, he plans to put together a protest.
“This is an attack on me and my friends and my city,” Beatty said.
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