Police Chief Says Probe Underway Into Drag Show With Children Present; City Council Hears Both Sides; Jenny Hill Hits Death Threats

  • Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Chattanooga Police Chief Celeste Murphy said Tuesday night that an incident during Pride Week at a local bar where young children were at a drag show "is being addressed."

She said, "I'm here for everybody. If there's a law that has been broken, it will be addressed."

Chief Murphy spoke at the end of a City Council meeting where some speakers decried the event at Wanderlinger Brewing Co. on King Street that was partially filmed, then converted to a viral video. Others said the incident is being inflamed by "hate groups" against gay people, including use of death threats.

County Mayor Weston Wamp tweeted earlier Tuesday, "This isn't hard. Parents shouldn't take kids to drag shows and business owners shouldn't host drag shows aimed at children. It's a shame this is happening on Ironman weekend when the best of our area is on display. For those visiting: no, these aren't our values."

The first speaker, Charles Wysong, asked the City Council members to take a stand on the issue. Chairman Darrin Ledford responded by saying, "I will not let this council be strong-armed."

Councilman Chip Henderson said the matter is under investigation, and council members should not comment in that situation.

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod said, "We ostracize people who are different. The same way that gay people are treated black people are treated."

She told the crowd, "All of y'all who showed up should go to the County Commission tomorrow morning. That's where Weston Wamp will be. You've not heard our mayor say anything so take it over to County Commission."

Councilwoman Jenny Hill, after several gay people said the incident made them feel afraid, said, "I want you to know I am not okay with that. Everyone deserves to feel safe in Chattanooga. I would love to think we are past the day where people are in danger for being different."

After allegations were made of death threats, she later said, "I am deeply concerned about these death threats. We don't tell people we're going to kill them. We don't do that in Chattanooga. We've got to nip this in the bud. This is abhorrent." 

Councilwoman Carol Berz said it was a matter for law enforcement to handle and said the rights of all citizens - no matter their sexual orientation or other differences - should be respected.

Mr. Wysong said in the video that "a little girl goes up and is induced to rub the genitals of this drag queen. This little girl will live with that image for the rest of her life." He decried "parents who are corrupting their children and their morals."

Melanie Stover said the law was violated "by allowing this kind of entertainment where children were present. This needs to end."

Pastor Reed Uberman said, "Diversity and equity is not an excuse to expose young children to sexually explicit material and with grown men flashing their crotches."

Harriet Reed, a transplant from California, said she was "really shocked to find that the same things going on in California were happening here in Chattanooga." She said, "It's not a situation of hate. It's a different opinion on how children should be raised."

She stated, "It's not called strong arming. It's called doing the will of the people who elected you." Saying she will return to council meetings, she added, "I am not running anymore. This is my last stand."

A woman who said she was from the LGBT community said it was "pure lack of judgment to have a drag show at a brewery and call it kid-friendly." 

A speaker said, "You just don't open doors to a strip club and shuffle kids in. We need to have some sort of regulations. You have men wearing underwear (with children present). I consider that abuse."  

Brian Field called it "a battle between good and evil. It's better to have a millstone around your neck than to cause one of the little ones to go astray. We are on a slippery slope that could lead to public nudity. Chattanooga will become like Sodom and Gomorrah."

Rebecca Day, referring to a post from "someone on the left," said, "It's not the conservatives who have been making threats."  She asked council members, "Please do something. Say something."

Cheryl Twitty said, "I'm very concerned about children being exposed to this drag stuff. It is not healthy for young children to be exposed to male nudity or to sexual touching. I implore you - protect our children. Keep the regulations tight."

Rick Walls said, "I'm offended by the strong arm statement." He said laws on the books against child abuse "should be enforced."

Dan Mehan hit council members for not commenting and praised County Mayor Wamp. He said the City Council should take a vote and send a letter asking for action to District Attorney Coty Wamp.

Scott Graham said, "I've heard a lot about respecting everybody's rights, but not one person on this dais has assured anyone that the children will be protected."

A female speaker said LGBT are a vulnerable community and the current uproar "could lead to a crisis and a fatal situation." She said it "could take away our ability" to have such Pride events, while saying the drag show was "no different than the Rockettes where they kick up their legs."

Another speaker said the incident is being used "to foment hate and fear." She said, "It's frightening. I've been terrified my whole life and I really don't want to be terrified anymore." The speaker said the brief video clip "did not show the full situation." 

Veronica from District 5 said, "Drag is an art form for us. We need a place to be ourselves. We follow certain guidelines."

Noah Corbin, president of the Chattanooga Pride board, said the allegations "are rooted in hate." He said the woman who was touched by the child "is not a drag queen but a biological female who was dressed as Ariel in the Little Mermaid. 

He said he had been threatened "in graphic detail" as well as a threat that his dog's throat would be cut.

Jonathan Logan said he knows many close gay friends who have experienced death threats related to the controversy. He said, "We constantly have to worry." He said the children involved "were brought by their parents and had a nice time. We make sure there is no wrongdoing to children." 

Rachel Campbell said Pride Week is meant to be "a celebration of love and light" and said it had been twisted "by ugly, hateful people working to sow hatred, bigotry and fear against queer people here. It endangers the lives of these much-loved people who are increasingly alarmed by the hate groups. I am especially concerned that our county mayor would sidle up to these groups. Shame on him. Hate has no place here."

A recent UTC grad said there is no data supporting a theory that gay people "cause any particular harm" to young children. He said since the airing of the video there have been "multiple threats against queer businesses."

Corey Evatt said those at the festival "had gathered to express joy and have a good time." He said growing up he had been taught to hate people who were different, but changed his mind "after meeting some of these wonderful people." He said, "We're seeing the fear and hate get louder and louder."





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