FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Walton Arts Center (WAC) has informed Northwest Arkansas Equality that drag performances where minors are permitted are no longer allowed in its facilities during Northwest Arkansas Pride Weekend.
According to NWA Equality, while requesting to book the WAC for the NWA Pride Youth Zone, the WAC responded by saying that "drag performances where minors are permitted are no longer allowed" at the facility.
Instead, NWA Pride Youth Zone will take place at the Fayetteville Town Center during NWA Pride Weekend.
"We are pleased to host them as we have many times in the past. We look forward to making sure they have a successful event, just as we do with each organization that rents the facility," said Experience Fayetteville VP of Marketing and Communications, Sarah King.
NWA Equality says that the WAC board of directors upheld the decision on May 2 during a meeting.
The LGBTQ+ organization called the decision "surprising, disappointing and inconsistent," noting shows like Tootsie and The Rocky Horror Picture Show ran without comment at the Walton Arts Center's most recent season. These shows have been linked with drag shows due to main roles in the plays that include characters dressing as the opposite sex.
"They have hosted multiple Broadway shows and other performances that include drag that kids are totally welcome to go to," said Northwest Arkansas Pride Director, Richard Gathright.
This controversy comes after Arkansas Senate Bill 43 was originally filed to classify drag performances in the state as "adult-oriented," restricting businesses from hosting them and minors from attending drag shows.
However, after two amendments were made, the ACLU of Arkansas said the bill no longer "explicitly" targets the LGBTQ community, which is often found at the forefront of drag performances.
"No law or Walton Arts Center written policy prevents NWA Equality from hosting its full range of NWA Pride programming at this venue, including drag performances attended by youth," NWA Equality said in a statement.
The organization also states that the WAC has a policy that allegedly states parents are the only ones qualified to determine what is appropriate for their child to view.
In response, WAC released the following statement:
"Drag is a performance medium that the Walton Arts Center recognizes and presents on our stages regularly, and that will not change. We celebrate diversity both on and off our stages and are open to hosting Pride events this year except for drag story time for minors and drag performances by adults specifically for minors. Our decision was made in the interest of safety concerns for performers, patrons, and staff due to the divisive political rhetoric at this time. NWA Equality chose to move all of their events from Walton Arts Center.”
In response to the statement, Gathright said “I mean, there are always security concerns around pride. It’s always been a thing.” He says safety is a top priority of NWA Pride and Fayetteville Police who provide security for the event. The police department says they have been planning their pride security strategy for months.
"Very very disappointed that a strong partner and ally of our for many years has made this decision," Gathright said.
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