The national quarrel about transgender acceptance made an unbidden appearance in Burlington this week when a Graham resident confronted Burlington’s elected leaders about an upcoming event at the city’s historic train depot.
During a regularly-scheduled city council meeting on Tuesday, Brittany Cartner raised a smorgasbord of concerns about an annual festival that Alamance Pride, a locally-based LGBTQ advocacy group, is scheduled to hold at the depot’s amphitheater on Saturday.
The self-described cofounder of a Facebook group for “concerned parents,” Cartner read out a statement from the group’s other facilitator, whom she identified as April Campbell, concerning the drag performances and “children’s story times” that she understood to be on the festival’s bill.
“We have seen an increase in drag queen shows and story times being held in cities and towns across the country and often there are children in attendance,” Cartner continued as she shared Campbell’s statement during the city council’s designated public comment period. “Children are exposed to provocative, explicit behavior, stories about sex, gender ideology, and inappropriate dance performances.”
Cartner soon segued into a remonstration on the “sexualization of children” and the potential opportunities it may pose to child predators. She also read selections from an article in something called “the People’s Voice,” which warned of sinister groups that lure young people to share homemade footage of dangerous or sexually provocative acts over the Internet.
“There are people and organizations that seek to normalize pedophilia and prey on our children,” the Graham resident went on to assure Burlington’s leaders. “They want to decriminalize sex with minors. They want parents to be complicit and think it’s normal to sexualize children at an early age.”
“To be clear, I am not accusing Alamance Pride of any wrongdoing,” Carter added. “I am respectfully requesting the city of Burlington to implement a policy that will limit these types of events to adults 18 and older.”
In response to Cartner’s request, Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler asked city staff if the council even has the authority to impose an age limit on Alamance Pride’s festival. The reply from city attorney David Huffman was noncommittal, although he agreed to look into the matter after admitting he didn’t know anything about the upcoming event.
Meanwhile, Cartner’s apparent conflation of drag shows with pedophilia drew a sharp rebuke from city council member Kathy Hykes. Hykes, who plans to step down from her post after this year’s municipal elections, labored to maintain her composure as she addressed this inferred link, which she had gathered from the materials that Cartner had shared with the council.
“I resent this article where pedophilia is being put together with Alamance Pride,” she added. “Parents can bring their children to a pride parade if they wish. I don’t think limiting their ability to do that is what we want to get involved in.”
Butler, for his part, tried to allay Hykes’ objections by explaining that he took away a much less incendiary message from Cartner’s remarks.
“I personally did not take it as a target on Alamance Pride but just as a concern that if any young people are being exposed on public property to things that are detrimental, we need to be aware of that,” he added.
Butler went on to insist that the city council should avoid conflating national controversies with “local realities,” adding that the council still owes it to members of the public to look into their concerns – “but not with prejudice.”
During the council’s discussion, Burlington’s recreation director Tony Laws piped up to note that Alamance’s Pride’s festival is a recurring, annual event. Laws held back any additional observations, however, when Butler informed him the input wasn’t required. The recreation director later intimated to The Alamance News that his own familiarity with the festival is somewhat limited as he has never actually seen the event.
A cursory scan of Alamance Pride’s website offers a few insights about the upcoming festival. Among other things, it describes the group’s very raison d’être as “organizing and presenting” this yearly event, which aims “to celebrate the LGBTQ community, promote inclusion and diversity, provide opportunities for community outreach, and to educate ourselves, allies, and the Alamance County community about the importance of equality.”
The group’s Facebook page offers some additional details about this year’s big bash, which is co-sponsored by Elon University and various area businesses. According to the latest posts, the forthcoming street fair will feature food, arts and crafts, and performances from a Baltimore-based hip-hop artist, an acrobatics ensemble, a coed acapella combo from Elon University, and Burlington’s own Gallery Players.
Although the key words “drag” and “drag queen” are attached to a number of these posts, the only unambiguous allusions to a drag show concern a separate event called “Pride After Dark.” Heralded as “sexy, sparkly, sumptuous and satisfying,” this indoor performance at the Burlington Beer Works requires a ticket to enter and is explicitly restricted to people 21-years-old and up. (Hykes, incidentally, was a substantial early investor in the Burlington-based microbrewery and has historically recused herself from the council’s decisions regarding the business.)