Joe Barbuto, chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party, will host a drag show in Rock Springs on New Year’s eve. Barbuto said he’s glad to see there are expanding opportunities for the arts in Rock Springs and southwest Wyoming.
“I think it’s important that we have a variety of artistic events and public performance opportunities for people to experience and attend, and shows like this are a part of that,” Barbuto said.
Barbuto clarified to Cowboy State Daily that he won’t host the event in his capacity as chairman of the Democratic Party or appearing there in drag.
Drag shows have become a target for some in recent years because of a belief they promote a negative lifestyle and deliver a dangerous message to children about gender identity.
The “Drag Me to ’24: A New Year’s Eve Dragstravaganza” event will be held at the Broadway Theater in Rock Springs, the same venue that hosted a drag queen story hour for children in October.
Not In My Town
Rock Springs resident Laura McKee railed against the story hour to the Rock Springs City Council that month and told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday she plans to bring up the New Year’s event to the council at its next meeting.
Rock Springs invested $1.7 million in the theater about 15 years ago and lets the facility rent out the space, which the city owns.
The New Year’s event and drag storytime are produced by The Starling Co., which is run by Rock Springs resident Kenny McCormack, one of Barbuto’s friends. This will be the second edition of the “Dragstravaganza,” which was attended last year by about 250 people, McCormack said.
“We want to create more opportunities for more people, more safe spaces for people to be themselves,” McCormack said.
McKee plans to potentially “praise and worship” with her church group across the street from the theater when the drag show is held.
“It will be a praise and worship session, not a protest,” she said. “I won’t do a protest because that’s not what God told me to do. He says to love people where they’re at. I don’t want anyone to think I love anyone less.”
Parental Choice Or Not?
Entry into the New Year’s event is “parental discretion advised,” which generally means children could be admitted with the approval of their parents.
This is unacceptable to McKee, who doesn’t believe children should be allowed to attend drag shows and that gender is decided at birth by God.
“I don’t want kids to have to question what gender they are,” she said. “It’s just not normal. This crazy sexualization stuff is just not normal.”
McKee said she believes in parental choice, but that it doesn’t extend to letting parents decide they want to bring their children to a drag show.
She made the comparison to lawful intervention in a household with minors where the prescription narcotic fentanyl is being dealt.
“Sometimes we have to protect kids from their own parents,” McKee said.
Barbuto said it should be up to a parent’s discretion whether they want to bring children to a drag show or not, but he did admit some drag shows may be inappropriate for children.
McCormack said he has no interest in having any influence on children or even interacting with them. What he does want is to lower Wyoming’s high suicide rate and provide a more welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community.
During the October city council discussion about the storytime drag, some council members said the First Amendment supported the event taking place. McKee disagreed, saying the First Amendment shouldn’t allow children to be exposed to certain adult themes.
A mother to four foster children, McKee considers herself a “grizzly bear” when it comes to advocating for kids.
McKee also has a problem with the fact that alcohol will be sold at the event, equating it to letting children enter a bar.
McCormack said he found this comparison preposterous and brought up other public events where alcohol is served and children are allowed to attend, like weddings, sports games and concerts.
McKee said she has a grandson who is gay and she loves deeply, and that she doesn’t oppose members of the LGBTQ community because of their sexual orientation.
Her core issue is that she believes certain leaders of Rock Springs are pushing an agenda that sexualizes children and forces them to consider issues like gender dysphoria at far too young of an age.
“The battle is not against him,” she said. “The battle is against evil.”
According to the U.S. Census, about 1% of Americans identify as transgender, which McKee said is evidence that too much attention is being put on the topic.
“Why are we pushing this issue?” she questioned. “We’re not letting kids be kids and have fun. We’re pushing them to be adults.”
See It Before You Judge It
McCormack said there were some detractors who attended the storytime event last month who sat through the event and left without creating any issues.
Barbuto said there will always be opposition to drag shows, but he believes the majority of Rock Springs has been supportive of the drag events.
“There are a lot of people who are anxious to be waging these culture wars against things that they might not understand or fully appreciate, and I think that a lot of times it’s a lack of familiarity with what’s going on when it comes to drag events,” he said.
Barbuto and McCormack want more people to come to drag shows before they start rendering an opinion about them.
“Ultimately, what I tell people is that if you have a problem with it, just show up,” McCormack said. “If you don’t like it, leave.”
He said drag is not intended for sexual pleasure, nor is it inherently sexual. Rather, he considers the performance a form of artistic expression.
“So, for someone to inherently connect it to sexualization and who doesn't know the kind of content it is, it’s kind of silly,” he said.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.