In Jackson, Tennessee this weekend, the small town’s annual Pride festival was forced to move inside after a local lawmaker up for reelection drew attention to the event and a scheduled drag performance, stoking community outrage and threats from the Proud Boys and Westboro Baptist Church.
After a year of planning, Jackson Pride was set to happen in the town’s Conger Park, where the event took place without complaint in 2019 and 2021. Then on September 17, Republican state Rep. Chris Todd posted to Facebook: “I continue to hear from Madison Countians APPALLED at the possibility of a drag queen show in Conger Park.”
“I share your shock and sentiment. If Mayor Conger or City officials have approved (allowed) this event, then they are clearly ignoring the law. I intend to see that the law is upheld!” he wrote.
In his post, Todd cited a state law that bars “adult cabarets” from being within 1,000 feet of public parks, residences, or places of worship to justify legal action against the event’s organizers.
Days later, Jackson’s mayor, Scott Conger, convened a community meeting at City Hall including Todd, Republican state Rep. Ed Jackson, attorneys for the state, members of the Jackson Pride Committee, and church officials, among others.
At the meeting, Todd claimed he’d heard an outpouring of complaints from constituents before and after drawing attention to the event, who didn’t want “this trash” in their community, according to a recording provided by Jackson Pride to NBC News.
Chair of Jackson Pride Darren Lykes told the assembled group that performers were preparing a family friendly show and reminded Todd that the same event had happened twice before in the same location. “Where was your outrage then?” he asked.
Todd replied: “Well, I didn’t know about it.”
One attendee from a local church likened drag shows to performing in blackface.
In a compromise reached with the mayor, Jackson Pride organizers agreed to move the event indoors, from the park to the nearby Civic Center. Not content with the event being out of sight, Todd enlisted fellow state Rep. Ed Jackson and 12 members of First United Methodist Church to join a lawsuit claiming that holding the drag show in the Civic Center would violate state law.
“Plaintiffs who worship at First United Methodist Church will suffer imminent and irreparable injury if this injunction is not granted as an adult cabaret will be featured within 1,000 feet of their house of worship,” the complaint stated.
Jackson Pride organizers avoided a complete shutdown in another compromise, brokered by the ACLU and Jackson’s city attorney, whereby the Civic Center would be emptied of attendees at the end of the day, and the drag show would go on for an 18-and-over audience, with an ID check at the door.
Not content with getting Jackson Pride and the drag show out of sight, Todd claimed in a follow-up Facebook post that he’d forced organizers to admit they were wrong from the start.
“By agreeing to the restrictions,” Todd wrote, “they have effectively acknowledged that what they were promoting was way out of line.”
Darin Hollingsworth, a Jackson Pride Committee member, was resigned to the misinformation and hate surrounding the event.
“We know that young people in their teens who are queer or questioning or supportive would love to see this,” he said. “But we will be in contempt if we even allow parents to bring in their child, so we won’t.”
Todd is facing a challenge from Erica Coleman, a policy analyst and former public school teacher running to replace him as state representative for Tennessee’s District 73.