By Kyle Clayton
Chilkat Valley News
The Southeast Alaska State Fair is working to reschedule Juneau Drag to a later time slot at the fair after the board received opposition from some residents about the event.
In addition to writing letters to the fair board, residents spoke both in opposition and in support of the drag show during public comment at the Haines Borough Assembly Tuesday night. Some lobbied the assembly to stop funding the fair, or requested that the event be hosted in a private venue. Port Chilkoot Bible Church pastor Matt Jones said the fair board should not have scheduled an event it knew would provoke controversy.
“Why would we put this in a public place when it’s perfectly legal to do that in the privacy of a private business of which we have many that might look forward to entertaining that as a business opportunity,” Jones said. “But rather it’s going to be in a public venue at 7 p.m. on Friday night while your kids are trying to ride the Ferris wheel next to it.”
The assembly has traditionally funded the fair to the tune of $20,000 on an annual basis, which is about less than 5% of the fair’s budget. Pastor Sage Thomas asked the assembly to consider cutting off funding to the fair. He and others said the show was inherently sexual and inappropriate for a community event.
“We’re talking about something that is sexual whether we want to say it is or not,” Courtney Kelly said. “It doesn’t matter if someone else doesn’t think it’s sexual or if someone else says that’s just how they express themselves.”
Aly Zeiger spoke in support of the act and said because multiple events happen at the same time, people can avoid acts they don’t want to see.
“One of the reasons I go to the fair is to see other parts of Haines, to see other parts of Southeast Alaska, parts I can’t necessarily go to see myself. For that reason, I support the Haines fair bringing the drag show to town,” Aly Zeiger said.
Others pushed back against the notion that the show is inherently sexual.
“I’d like to remind everyone this is not a scary monster,” Amy Kane said. “This is taking over the national conversation as a scary monster. These are our neighbors, they’re real people. They’re not just sexualized performers. They’re professional performers.”
Fair board chair Spencer Douthit said he received photos of Juneau Drag performances from concerned residents that were sexually explicit. “I totally agree and thought all those photos were inappropriate and none of the behavior in those photos are going to be featured at the fair,” Douthit told the CVN. “We agree that it is not appropriate content.”
While some photos on Juneau Drag’s website and Facebook page show individuals in burlesque and other sexually explicit poses, others show them fully clothed in space suits, cowboy attire and other costumes singing and dancing.
“They do shows at bars sometimes and they’re a little more risqué, but they have their public show and they made sure the content of that public show, that their costume and the music and the style of their performance is friendly for all ages,” Douthit said. “They’re aware there’s concerns about what would be an appropriate thing to wear in a public setting and made sure to satisfy that.”
Douthit said the board will likely not reschedule the event in a private location or at the Chilkat Center. He said it doesn’t make fiscal sense to use a venue other than the fairgrounds and that a smaller space such as the Klondike won’t fit enough people who want to see the show. The fair board still needs to renegotiate its contract with Juneau Drag, but the show will likely remain scheduled for the main stage. It will likely move from 7 p.m. to an hour or two later in the evening, he said.
When asked what the impact of a $20,000 funding cut would have on the fair, Douthit said it would have little impact on their performance budget. He said he’d be more concerned about the signal the assembly would send by withdrawing support to the fair.
“I think it would be unfortunate for a single performance to negate all of the benefits that the fair brings to the borough, from inexpensive commercial spaces at Dalton City, to all our events throughout the entire year, the softball fields, these public spaces everyone gets to use like pickleball, the community garden,” Douthit said. “We have so many roles in the community.”
At the assembly meeting, no official action was taken, but assembly member Gabe Thomas said the assembly should ask the fair to move the act to a later time.
“Let the parents, let the families have a choice,” Thomas said. “That’s the middle ground. Simple as that.”
Assembly member Cheryl Stickler hinted that she’d be in support of cutting off funding to the fair. “I cannot and will not support spending taxpayer money on a show that is so controversial and does not meet widely held community standards.”
Assembly member Ben Aultman Moore agreed with Thomas and said the act could be rescheduled, but also pushed back on the idea that drag was essentially sexual.
“I think drag is costuming, which really can mean anything for the individual. There’s been various opinions of what drag means to people. People call it a sexual fetish. That’s a fear-based misunderstanding of what costuming is and what drag is.”
Douthit said the fair board plans to hold a public meeting sometime in the next two weeks to hear more from residents.