The Chattanooga City Council heard a steady stream of concern from members of the community Tuesday about a video taken at a youth-oriented LGBTQ event over the weekend. The video has spurred local debate about whether children should attend drag shows and has prompted what the group organizing the event says are false allegations.
The event, which occurred Saturday at WanderLinger Brewing Co., was part of a weeklong LGTBQ celebration organized by Chattanooga Pride. Nashville area conservative political activist Robby Starbuck circulated a video from the event on social media over the weekend. The video showed a girl running her hands along the front of a performer's sequined costumed.
The performer was dressed as Ariel from "The Little Mermaid." Angry commenters on social media assumed she was a man, but the brewery's owner and the Chattanooga Pride organization have said the performer is a biological female. The event featured arts and crafts, drag queen story time and a family-friendly show.
"The situation in question did not even involve a drag performer," Noah Corbin, the president of the Chattanooga Pride board, told council members Tuesday. "It involved a biological female that does princess parties as part of her job. She ... in no way encouraged this to happen. The video in question does not show the young lady shifting her weight to change the placement of the child's hand. That part was naturally left out to fuel an agenda."
Several members of the LGBTQ community made emotional pleas to the panel Tuesday and decried hateful responses they had received after the video was posted online. Corbin said they had received death threats, and Emara White told council members she has been terrified her whole life and doesn't want to be terrified anymore.
"Everybody here elected y'all, and I have love for everyone here, and I hope that one day I can feel that and feel safe," she said.
Councilwoman Jenny Hill, of North Chattanooga, stressed to White that she hears her concerns. She said she's deeply concerned about death threats the speakers referenced.
"We cannot allow this to be normalized in our community," she said. "I want you to know that it is not OK that you find yourselves living in this situation. I'm sure that my inbox is going to be filled with all manner of nasty, nasty things when I wake up tomorrow. I got elected, and I have to take those arrows."
Corbin told the council that banning all-age drag shows would directly undermine parents' freedom to raise their children as they see fit.
"A majority of people calling for a ban are also against mandated vaccines, mandated masks and many other issues that have similar parallels that speak to a person's ability to choose what you do, so ask yourself, 'What is the difference?' The difference here is the community it impacts," Corbin said. "These calls to action are rooted in hate, and to entertain them would only be to give in to that hate."
Many speakers, however, raised concerns about the video. Trevor Kremser, a parent, said the threats directed at the LGBTQ community are not OK, but he added that it's not OK to bring a child to a drag show.
"If these parents are taking their kids to something that is oversexualized or in a situation where you have men wearing lingerie, I consider that abuse," he said. "I don't think that's a healthy situation which you should put your kids in."
Chattanooga Police Chief Celeste Murphy told the crowd Tuesday that her job is to make the city safe, which includes children and people from any demographic.
"I don't operate in opinions or feelings. I operate in the law, and if there's any law that's broken, it will be addressed," she said.