Pikeville drag show event canceled after violent, anti-LGBTQ threats
Threats of violence led the organizer of an all-ages drag show this weekend in eastern Kentucky to cancel. The goal was to raise funds for a clothing bank that would serve transgender youth.
Therapist Kyle May felt there weren’t many spaces around Pikeville that would be healing and self-affirming for LGBTQ youth. So he planned “Come as You Are,” a fundraiser to set up a gender-affirming clothing bank that would provide binders and makeup to help transgender people socially transition more easily.
But on Wednesday morning, activists in Pikeville announced the show was canceled due to threats of violence by anti-LGBTQ people.
May said when he received a barrage of responses from people threatening to bring guns to the event, he felt he couldn’t put performers and audiences at risk.
“Some of these comments were about how they’re trying to protect children. We’re not trying to indoctrinate people, we’re not trying to say, ‘You have to live the life of LGBTQ people,’” he said. “Being able to go to a drag show helps them see that, yes, ‘I too can be who I am and be happy in life.’”
For people in rural communities and small cities like Pikeville, social stigma or prejudice in addition to distress surrounding their gender identity can contribute to heightened mental health risks.
A 2022 study in JAMA Pediatrics found more than 7% of youth living in a rural Appalachian region report a gender identity that does not fully align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Professor of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies at Morehead State University Bernadette Barton said places like Pikeville, where traditional gender roles and hierarchies dominate, need spaces that affirm queer identities.
“Drag being a place of safe haven is especially so in a place like Pikeville that has few queer expressions or public expressions. It’s more important there than in say, Lexington or Louisville,” she said.
The event cancellation comes amid a slew of proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation in Kentucky. Last week, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 150, which would allow teachers to misgender their students and bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
Senate Bill 115, sponsored by Republican Sen. Lindsey Tichenor from Smithfield, proposed prohibiting drag shows, classifying them as “adult performance” and criminalizing performers.
The bill passed the Senate but was not taken up in the House before the ongoing veto period. Lawmakers could pass it in the final two days of the session late this month, but they would not be able to override a potential veto.
Barton said the threats of violence May received perfectly illustrates trickle-down hate that starts with the Republican-dominated legislature.
“When you have the institution saying ‘There’s this law now, we’re going to ban this,’ men with guns are empowered to threaten drag performers and LGBTQ people,” she said.
May said lawmakers’ actions could make it harder for youth to accept themselves for who they are.
“Their goal is to eradicate the LGBTQ community. But sexuality is real. Gender identity is real, whether they want to believe it or not. You can’t outlaw us,” May said.