What started as an online ripple became a wave of public comments at the last borough assembly meeting in Haines. At issue is the planned performance of the troupe Juneau Drag at the Southeast Alaska State Fair this summer.
Spencer Douthit chairs the fair board. After posting the lineup on the fair’s website, he said he received 95 emails by Wednesday — with a slight majority in support of hosting Juneau Drag.
Douthit estimated that he has spent more than 25 hours dealing with the communications over the past week. He hadn’t expected such a reaction.
“Juneau Drag has done many public performances over the course of many years, and what they are going to present at the fair would be the same performance you would see in Skagway or Juneau at a public venue,” Douthit said.
Douthit said some of the comments he received were worrying. One sender fantasized about a world where violence would prevent such shows from happening. Douthit said he forwarded that one to the police department.
The comments during the borough assembly meeting — where representatives of the local ministerial association voiced their opposition to the show — were not that inflammatory.
Resident Courtney Kelly said she objected to what she called the sexual nature of the show.
“For me, this is not an issue when it comes down to religion or any of those things,” Kelly said. “The fair has an opportunity to put forth an event that everyone can enjoy. We are talking about something that is sexual whether we want to say it is or not. It doesn’t matter if someone else says it is not sexual, or someone else says, ‘Well, that’s just how they express themselves.’”
Resident Ali Zeiger spoke in support of the show.
“One of the reasons I go to the fair is to see other parts of Southeast Alaska, parts that I can’t necessarily go to to see myself. And for that reason, I support bringing the drag show to town,” Zeiger said. “There is a lot to see at the fair — you don’t have to go to the shows you don’t like.”
Assemblymember Gabe Thomas suggested getting all of the children out of the fair before the performance.
“Let the parents, let the families have their choice. It’s kind of a middle ground,” Thomas said. “It’s not saying we don’t want it, we don’t support it — it’s just saying let the families have their choice.”
Many people opposed to bringing Juneau Drag to Haines said the show would not be family-friendly. But Gigi Monroe (James Hoagland), the drag mother of the troupe, said each performance is adapted to its audience.
“I would say drag is an art form like any other art form, and it can be family-friendly, or it can be adult only,” Monroe said. “Just like music, like painting, just like dance performance, there is a range. So when we look at attending an art event, we look at who is going to be there. And we tailor the performance to that audience.”
Monroe said over the last eight years, the shows have been adapted to fit a variety of venues.
“We started out at some of the local bars, but then we started getting requests to perform outside of the bars. So we started doing one-off events, whether they were block parties or performances at the university. And we had a huge call to have family-friendly offerings so that parents and kids could enjoy the shows as well,” Monroe said.
One thing leading to another, the troupe started doing an annual Drag Story Hour at the Juneau library.
“We show up at the library, and they have selected a pile of books that would be good options for us to read, and so each of the performers selects a book, and there is three or four of us, and we show up in drag, and we perform a short song that is kid-oriented,” Monroe said. “And then we read the book. And then it’s three or four songs and three or four books, and then we just have a group dance party at the end, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Monroe said the Drag Story Hour is now the second most popular event at the Juneau library, just behind the day when the fire department gives kids tours of their trucks.
As for the controversy in Haines, the fair board is looking into rescheduling the drag show for later in the evening, and there are plans to host a meeting to give community members a chance to voice their concerns.
A member of the ministerial association said they have reached out to the fair board to discuss the matter. Until then, they have chosen not to comment further.