SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (WGHP) — The show must go on.

A drag event being hosted in Southern Pines, North Carolina, has received backlash, but the organizers are not backing down.

Downtown Divas

Downtown Divas will be held on Dec. 3 at Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines. It is being put on by Sandhills PRIDE, who says they’ve held four events like this in Southern Pines. The previous three were held in the Belvedere Plaza in downtown Southern Pines, and they also held a “Kinky Boots” watch party at the Sunrise Theater in 2019.

The event is hosted by Naomi Dix, a drag artist who has been performing for over eight years. She is based out of Durham but has performed all over North Carolina and outside of the state as well.

Misunderstanding

The reaction to the Southern Pines event is familiar to Dix, but Lauren Mathers of Sandhills PRIDE says that Southern Pines events haven’t attracted this level of backlash before.

Dix says that we are in the midst of a spike in pushback against queer people, especially drag performers, from conservatives, but she adds that discrimination is not new and is unlikely to go away anytime soon. She believes that this backlash is a result of marginalized communities speaking out and standing up for themselves.

“The fight is never over,” Dix said. “The fight will only get stronger.”

Misunderstandings over what drag performances are have fueled a lot of negative reactions to them. And Mathers believes that misunderstanding is contributing to the backlash in Southern Pines.

“I think it is often confused with burlesque, which is a completely different thing. This performance has been compared to a sex show that one would find in a strip club. It is neither. There is no nudity or any other activity that supports this idea but the position that is being taken is that these shows are equivalent to XXX club entertainment and that is just false, wrong, and misleading,” she said.

What is drag?

Despite misconceptions, Dix emphasized that she is not an adult entertainer. She said false narratives have been constructed out of decontextualized and misleading information. Pictures and videos from private performances or from club performances that were geared toward adults have been taken out of context in order to build a misleading narrative around drag performances.

“If you’ve been to a concert, you’ve been to a drag show,” Dix said.

Drag artists’ purpose is to create safe, inclusive spaces and bring resources and representation into underserved communities. Bringing awareness to marginalized people is all that Naomi and artists like her want. She is focused on bringing representation and visibility for those who don’t have it.

Dix believes this event is important to Southern Pines and said that there are not a lot of chances for the LGBTQ+ community to see themselves represented.

Drag and children

Mathers believes it is that common misinterpretation of drag as a form of sexual entertainment that has prompted some to believe that events like Drag Queen Story Time are inappropriate for children.

According to The Pilot, parents of students at a Southern Pines Christian school received a copy of a poster promoting Downtown Divas along with a letter calling the event an “attack on the children of this community.” Dix says that the poster had been altered.

Children and teenagers were initially allowed at Downtown Divas if they were accompanied by an adult, but The Pilot says that Sunrise and Sandhills PRIDE decided to change it.

“While we do not believe that the content of this show will be explicit in nature, out of an abundance of caution, the organizers of the event have chosen to implement an age restriction. As the venue hosts of the event, we have agreed and support this restriction,” the theater told The Pilot in a statement.

Dix says that her brand is creating a safe space for all, and that includes children and teens as well as adults. “They can’t come to this event, but I will show up for them regardless.”

Public reaction

Mathers said that both Sandhills PRIDE and The Sunrise Theater have been targeted by hate speech and harassment, over social media and on the phone. The sponsors of the event and the theater have received “the bulk of the hate,” she said.

The Pilot reports that many emails sent to the theater “contained the same copied-and-pasted text” saying that the event “shouldn’t be here and isn’t in line with the values” of Southern Pines.

Mathers says she was told that the event was shared on LibsOfTikTok, a social media account that shares videos, pictures and LGBTQ+ events with the intent of inciting anger in its followers. LibsOfTikTok was also blamed by the organizer of a drag brunch in Sanford where the Cape Fear Proud Boys showed up to protest.

Mathers is aware that a group applied for a permit for a protest but did not know if the permit had been granted or who had applied for it. She noted that people from nearby churches had been discussing a protest.

“We do not take any of this lightly. The Sunrise Theater is working with local leaders and Sandhills PRIDE to increase security and take every measure possible to ensure the safety of our attendees and our town while holding steadfast in our position that we will not give in to hate,” she wrote.

Sandhills PRIDE has hired private security and been in touch with the Southern Pines Police Department about the event in order to make sure that it’s safe.

WGHP reached out to the director of The Sunrise Theater but have not yet gotten a response.

Beyond Southern Pines

Proud Boys have made themselves visible at three drag or LGBTQ+ events in North Carolina: one in Wilmington, one in Sanford and one in Raleigh.

Dix, however, said, “I don’t give a s—” if Proud Boys or other extremist groups show up. “I welcome it.”

She said people who oppose what they’re doing have the right to show up, to express themselves. However, she says they do not have a right to make people attending uncomfortable.

The national climate around the LGBTQ+ community has been tense in recent weeks and months, particularly in the wake of the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs, where five people were killed and dozens more injured.

Dix believes that instilling fear in LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities through acts of violence is a way to silence people who might stand up and demand change.

“We would not be where we are without fear. The fight is never over,” Dix said.

“If we stop or give in to this type of harassment then the harassers win and we do not move the needle for equality and representation forward. It’s that simple,” Mathers said. “We have short memories in this country where violence against marginalized or vulnerable populations is concerned.”

The event in Southern Pines will be on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Sunrise Theater.