Youth Drag Event in Visalia Faces Criticism at VUSD Board Meeting

Photo+via+Visalia+Unified+School+District

Photo via Visalia Unified School District

In multiple locations over the last few months, we have seen an increase in a backlash against drag show-related events. This has hit Visalia, with a youth drag show event being canceled due to threats from community members, and groups involved facing criticism once again now that the event has occurred.

During the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13, multiple community members came to the VUSD Board with their complaints about the Scream Queens event.

Scream Queens was a collaborative event between the California Health Collaborative, Source LGBT+ Center, and HEAL Project. Scream Queens paired a performance from drag queen Millennia Decade with a showing of the 1996 horror movie “Scream.”

The event was promoted to youth ages 14-22, but due to “Scream” being rated R, required parent permission for attendees under 17. Most of the promotion for the event happened through social media.

However, the event was promoted on Mt. Whitney High School’s campus for at least one day. This is seemingly where the conflict began.

The event was originally supposed to be held at the Visalia Fox Theater on Saturday, Sept. 3. On Sept. 1 however, the Source LGBT+ Center released a statement saying that the Scream Queens event was canceled.

According to the statement, this cancellation came “after reviewing the publicly posted communications and noting that they were increasing in threatening language towards potential attendees.”

After the cancellation was announced, the event happened anyway, at a location other than the Fox Theater. On social media, accounts such as the Unmask Tulare County group posted recordings of the event, calling for community members to comment at this board meeting if they disagreed with the event.

Soon after the beginning of the meeting, Superintendent Kirk Shrum stood to present the Spotlight on VUSD. Before beginning his presentation, he quickly addressed the Scream Queens Event without addressing it by name. He did not address the event itself, but the promotional flyers being distributed on campus as Mt. Whitney High School.

Kirk highlighted the fact that the board creates policies that the school district follows. Board Policy 1325(a) addresses the process of gaining approval to distribute items on a VUSD campus.

On this flyer distribution in particular, Shirk said it “did not follow policy, and so that situation was addressed. We have since informed our administrators and others of our policy to make sure that everyone is clear and understands the importance of following policy and why we have policy in the first place.”

Shirk then moved into his presentation on the Spotlight on VUSD, and the meeting moved on with it.

After approving by 7-0 a new measure that will make three years of math a graduation requirement for VUSD high school students, the meeting opened for public comment.

While opening the public comment section of the meeting, Board President and Trustee Area Two Juan Guerrero said, “I think it’s important for us to really focus on our board business. I know there’s some discussion in terms of things that went on on social media, but we’re not here to discuss social media. We’re here to discuss board business.”

At first, public comments did regard board business. However, after community members voiced their concerns on matters such as graduates from El Diamante High School’s Strong Academy receiving graduation cords or the ability for public comments to be made via phone call, the topic of the Scream Queens event came up.

Jimmy Malloy, Unmask Tulare County Inc. founder, was the first to bring up the event. Malloy began by correcting Guerro that his concerns with the event are not related to social media, but the fact that Scream Queens was promoted on a VUSD campus.

Malloy went on to describe videos from the event as he perceived them, saying,

“I’ll give you some highlights. It did feature a crowd cheering with excitement as an adult man dressed as a woman stripped off portions of his costume. It also featured the same man dancing provocatively and collecting dollar bills from the outstretched hands of what seemed to be teenagers and attendants of the show.”

The videos did show a drag queen performing for the crowd, beginning by wearing a costume seen on characters in “Scream.” As the performance went on, the performer removed the “Scream” costume to reveal a different drag outfit underneath, and continued dancing, as is common in many drag shows.

Malloy claimed this was an inappropriate event to be promoted to students, and listed questions he had about the event. These questions included, why California Health Collaborative was on Mt. Whitney’s campus that day; if California Health Collaborative has faced repercussions if they improperly promoted the event; what he should expect from “activist groups” now; and what steps will be taken to ensure a situation like this will not occur again.

Although promoted on a VUSD campus for one day, Scream Queens was not an event run by the school district. Neither the district nor the board has control over what happens at events not held by or in partnership with the district.

Malloy then went on to say that he is not a bigot, homophobic, or transphobic. Instead, he says, “I believe that in America, what grown-up consenting adults do behind closed doors is between them and God. What is not okay is having groups allowed on campus who target our children with creating identities based on sexuality and gender confusion.”

After addressing his concerns on data updates, Paul Belt, who is running for the Trustee Seat in Area Two, was the next person to touch on the Scream Queens Event. He called it a safety concern.

“This incident at Mt. Whitney also goes into safety issues. How were three adults allowed to go on campus,” Belt asked “Up until today, the only way that an adult can actually enter a campus is to go through the main door of the office. Someone approved three adults, not from the school, to be there. That’s a problem.”

Pamela Silva called the resolution recognizing June as LGBT+ Pride month that the board adopted this June hurtful.

“I don’t feel confident that that was a safe thing to do. We’ve seen what that caused. It caused adult people to come on without getting consent to come on campus,” Silva said.

She continued with, “Why is it that in our city you have adult men dancing provocatively with children, minors? If I did that, if I danced in front of a bunch of kids I’d be put in jail. But I’m not gay so I can’t get away with it…

I have no confidence that [the resolution recognizing Pride month] has done anything other than hurt these children. They are confused, they don’t know that any adult that looks at a child or a minor and says ‘oh I need to dance and gyrate in front of them’, they need to be put in jail. If you allow that again, you need to be put in jail.”

Drag shows are not new to Visalia. The Source LGBT+ Center has regularly hosted drag shows at events like Drag Queen Bingo and Pride Visalia. Local sports bar The 5th Quarter has hosted the Illusions drag show since the event relocated from The Republik Lounge in 2016.

Around the country, recent drag show events at brunches, children’s story hours, and zoo events have been met with criticism, and in some cases, violence. At multiple events, groups such as the Proud Boys have arrived to yell at participants, sometimes coming armed with weapons.

This Scream Queens event was not met with violence, but concerns that it may have led to its cancellation. Although the event was held anyways, will the comments made by community members make LGBT+ supportive groups reconsider similar events they had planned, fearing facing the same threats?

Jimmy Malloy ended his public comment by saying, “We need assurances that these things will not be happening. These things that we see happening all over the United States will not be happening in the largest school district in Tulare County.”

What lengths will they go to ensure these events do not occur here?

At the time of posting this article, the Source LGBT+ Center and HEAL Project have not responded for comment.