Tia Rikki performs at Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration on Saturday, June 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Tia Rikki performs at Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration on Saturday, June 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Arlington nixes $3,500 in security fees for Pride event

The city will classify it as “a First Amendment event.” Meanwhile, organizers have seen more pushback against local drag performances.

ARLINGTON — Arlington Pride organizers won’t be required to pay for security for an event in July, a decision that comes as city officials have grappled with a reported increase in hate speech and a controversy over drag performances.

The Pride group is hosting its second annual celebration on July 22. City officials had previously “asked the Pride group if they would consider not including Drag Story Time,” citing security concerns.

Initially, the city also said organizers would need to pay $3,500 for security and insurance due to the potential for threats and violence.

Now, officials have backed off the fee.

“The City determined that the event could be classified as a First Amendment event, which would allow it to proceed without the initial expected costs,” city spokesperson Sarah Lopez said in a statement sent to The Daily Herald.

On Monday at a City Council meeting, Arlington Pride’s acting president Caera Gramore said there has been “an increase in dialogue suggesting that our Pride event and other drag performances are not safe or appropriate for children.”

Last month, an apparently fake account posting under the name Papagaio Hernandez left several comments on official city accounts, claiming past drag performers were sex offenders — a totally fabricated claim, Gramore said.

At a meeting in late April, city officials asked Pride organizers if they would consider not having the story time this year, citing the Hernandez social media comments as evidence of community concerns. Additionally, local religious leaders around Arlington had spoken with Mayor Barbara Tolbert about the event. It remains unclear which religious leaders met with city officials or the nature of those discussions.

Several local churches, including Lifeway Church and First Baptist Church of Arlington, make their views on LGBTQ+ issues clear in their church statement of beliefs. Lifeway, for example, maintains “marriage is between one biological man and one biological woman,” while First Baptist’s guidelines say, “One’s gender and sex are permanent, given by God at conception.”

Lopez, the city spokesperson, noted the city did not demand changes to any aspects of the event.

“Based on the City’s interest in public safety for event participants and the public, the City passed along questions and concerns from community members about certain aspects of the planned programming — as would happen with any public event that raises concerns from community members,” Lopez wrote.

Following the event planning meeting, organizers moved the event back about a month from its original date, largely to have time to fundraise for security fees.

Gramore saved screenshots of comments from a Facebook group called Moms4Liberty, a national organization. In eight posts from the Snohomish County Moms4Liberty group shared with The Herald, members tried to identify local drag performers and noted any drag shows in the area.

Members also celebrated pushing back against the Arlington Pride event.

One comment from Dawnell Holt said: “Pressure from the community can work. Arlington moved the location and now has moved the date. We must keep fighting for the innocence of youth. Grooming children will not be tolerated.”

Members of the Moms4Liberty group also posted about a recent Mother’s Day all-ages event at ReMyx’d, which found its way into alt-right national media.

“I’ve never had to combat hatred like that,” said ReMyx’d owner Brenton Holland, who identifies as gay.

ReMyx’d is in Arlington on Smokey Point Boulevard. Holland said he had received death threats, reading one emailed to him during a phone call with a reporter. He said there has been an increase in hateful comments over the past two years.

“Drag is an art form,” Gramore said Monday, “that has the power to transform our LGBTQ population’s disproportionally high rates of experiencing traumas, social ostracization and violence and allows us to transform those experiences and replace them with love, joy, beauty, humor, connection, belonging and playfulness.”

Heather Beck, owner of the Mirkwood & Shire Cafe in Arlington, also spoke during the City Council meeting. Mirkwood also hosts drag shows and was a target of the same Facebook group.

“We do music, dance, art and drag shows on Monday night and they’re family-friendly and open to everyone,” Beck told council.

Arlington Pride organizers said they are moving forward. The group had not confirmed performers for the event.

“The new permit and the longer time to plan have allowed us to get more supports and fewer barriers so we can better plan for a fun, safe and affirming event,” Gramore said.

Still, attacks have caused alarm. Gramore asked officials to do more to respond.

“Allowing and especially perpetuating hate speech has a direct negative impact on (youth), and on adults as well,” she said. “I would love to see the city take a clearer stand on not allowing or perpetuating hate speech.”

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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