Murphy’s Lala speaks to a crowd at Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration telling them to “pay them no mind” in response to the protestors on June 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald file photo)

Murphy’s Lala speaks to a crowd at Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration telling them to “pay them no mind” in response to the protestors on June 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald file photo)

Editorial: Pride event should work with Arlington on safety

If background checks are required for the Pride event, that condition should be met for all events.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Pride delayed may not be Pride denied, but controversy and fear have forced additional scrutiny of the return of what many considered a successful first LGBTQ+ Pride event last year in Arlington.

Organizers of a second such Pride event this year have now moved the celebration to July 22, about a month later than most such events in June, timed to coincide with the anniversary of Stonewall uprising in Greenwich Village, New York, on June 28, 1969, identified as a defining moment in the gay pride movement in the U.S. The rescheduling was necessary, organizers told The Herald’s Jordan Hansen, to allow planners more time to prepare and fundraise for event costs, including a $3,500 fee charged by the City of Arlington to provide police security.

Among Pride events last year in Snohomish County, the Arlington event drew an estimated 300 people and a handful of protesters to the city’s Legion Memorial Park, while a similar event at Freedom Park on Camano Island drew an estimated 800 people.

The acceptance of Pride events and the LGBTQ+ community, like many issues in American society of late, appears increasingly to have divided public opinion. In the United States, acceptance of homosexuality has risen to 72 percent of the population as of 2019, up from a bare majority of 51 percent in 2002, according to the Pew Research Center, and 64 percent of Americans, it found, said transgender people should be protected from discrimination in jobs, housing and public spaces.

Yet at the same time, political opportunism has focused suspicion and accusations against the transgender community, in particular for such events as “drag queen” story hours, brunches and other public events. Last year’s event in Arlington drew a protest by black-clad and masked individuals holding a bed-sheet sign that proclaimed, “Drag queens are groomers.” Blanket charges of pedophilia — again, without proof or citation — are common among those protesting drag and transgender events.

Among the requests that the city made of the event organizers — out of community concerns expressed to it, the city said — were that it not include a drag queen story hour and that background checks be required of the event’s drag performers. One of those expressing such concerns, however, included the unfounded, unspecific and anonymous allegations on a Facebook account that two of three performers at last year’s event were registered sex offenders.

Caera Gramore, 45, acting president of Arlington Pride and an organizer for the event, said the only performer invited to last year’s event to read to kids works in a public school system and had undergone a background check as a requirement of employment. Additionally, Gramore said, last year’s event did not include three drag queens.

“It was just really shocking, like they’re repeating talking points that (anti-gay activist) Anita Bryant was saying before I was born,” Gramore told The Herald. “And it wasn’t even about our event.”

That organizers of the Pride event should have to accommodate the city’s concerns — based solely on generalized, anonymous and baseless allegations — amounts to an antithesis of the purpose of a Pride celebration. Yet, the event organizers may have little choice but to work with the city to satisfy those concerns, even if unwarranted.

Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert, in an email to The Herald, said the concerns the city raised weren’t meant to regulate the event’s content, but “rather to help with the safety of the event.”

And safety is a concern here; especially for event participants.

GLAAD, a leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer media advocacy organization, has been keeping a running tally of protests and threats against transgender and drag events since early last year. As of late last month, that tally stood at 166 nationwide, including the firebombing of a doughnut shop in Tulsa, Okla., in October, and armed confrontations that have involved the Proud Boys and white supremacists. Among protests in Washington state was a rally against an all-ages Disney princess drag show in Pasco. No violence was reported, but an organizer said she had received hate messages, Northwest Public Radio reported last month.

The city can reasonably ask for some concessions of organizers, specifically regarding background checks or proof of previous background checks for performers, staff and volunteers, especially those most likely to have contact with children. But if the safety of children and the concerns of the community are the intent of the city — and this should go for all local governments, frankly — then this requirement should be made of all events seeking a city permit.

There’s a viral nature to the attacks and allegations now focused on the transgender community at large, and the drag community in particular, feeding ravenously off its own anxiety.

Stretching back to Shakespeare’s theater, where female characters were performed by male actors, drag performers previously have been celebrated rather than vilified, including the likes of Milton Berle, Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine,” Dame Edna Everage and RuPaul. And, yes, some of them have been children’s entertainers.

Or have local viewers of a certain age of KIRO-TV’s “J.P. Patches Show,” forgotten about Gertrude, as performed by the late Bob Newman?

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