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Drag performers at Columbia event push back against Missouri Republican attack

by Rudi Keller and Annelise Hanshaw | January 24, 2023 at 4:01 a.m.
Nclusion Plus peformers Artemis Grey, KayCee and Faye King perform Thursday morning, Jan. 19, 2023, at the Columbia Values Diversity breakfast in Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Nclusion Plus via Missouri Independent)


A drag performance last week at a diversity event attended by Columbia middle schoolers was "high-brow and innocent," not the salacious sexual display alleged by Missouri Republicans, the marketing director for the group behind the performance said Sunday.

At the annual Columbia Values Diversity Breakfast, timed to be near the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, three members of the drag performance group Nclusion Plus put on a musical show as part of the festivities.

The annual breakfast draws hundreds of attendees of various ages, and this year's audience included about 30 middle-school aged students from Columbia Public Schools.

"The approach we took to songs, when we told the entertainers, was to offer something positive, uplifting, a song fit for a general family audience," Brandon Banks, director of marketing for Nclusion Plus, said in an interview with The Independent.

Hours after the event, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tweeted that his office was "inundated with calls & emails re: grade school kids being forced to sit through a drag show" at the breakfast.

In his tweet, Rowden included a link to a Substack blog post by Libs of TikTok -- which primarily shares content by LGBTQ creators and programs to a far-right audience. Libs of TikTok's creator Chaya Raichik posted video footage of Thursday's drag performances on her blog and Twitter.

The subjects of previous Libs of Tik Tok's tweets have been overwhelmed with violent threats following the account's posts.

Gov. Mike Parson added to the criticism on Friday, when his official Twitter account stated he was "deeply concerned about reports that Columbia middle school students were subjected to adult performers during what is historically a MLK Day celebration. This is unacceptable."

And by Friday afternoon, Attorney General Andrew Bailey had sent letters to the Columbia Public Schools and Columbia city officials accusing them of violating laws protecting children from sexually explicit material.

In the nearly identical letters, Bailey accused district Superintendent Brian Yearwood and city Mayor Barbara Buffaloe of working "actively to undermine Missouri's laws by deliberately subjecting a group of middle-school students to an adult-themed drag show performance."

Bailey suggested that the performance violated a law requiring parents to be notified of the content of human sexuality education and to be given a chance to opt-out of that part of the curriculum.

He also cited a new criminal statute making it class A misdemeanor to give "explicit sexual material" to a student.

The law defines the prohibited materials as depicting "human masturbation, deviate sexual intercourse (non-vaginal sexual relations), sexual intercourse, direct physical stimulation of genitals, sadomasochistic abuse, or emphasizing the depiction of postpubertal human genitals..."

Nothing even faintly resembling the prohibited explicit material was presented, Banks said.

"There was nothing sexual, nothing of any kind that this performance conveyed," he said. "This was a completely G-rated, family-friendly, uplighting, motivational, positive experience."

The conservative backlash, Banks said, ignores the content of the performance to make political points.

"It feels like we are being treated as the chum in the water for the sharks to feed on," Banks said. "It is just fear-mongering at the end of the day and it feels like it is taking our community backwards."

The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.


Print Headline: Drag performers at Columbia event push back against Missouri Republican attack

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