On Tuesday night, the city council in Franklin, Tennessee took up a motion on whether to grant a permit for the Franklin Pride Festival, mired in controversy after video surfaced last year showing what some residents of the conservative community called an obscene live performance with young children present.
But not before an alderman pulled out a picture of a drag queen eating a live, bleeding heart.
“This is something that could have happened in our park,” exclaimed Alderman At Large Gabrielle Hanson, as she waved the photo in front of a packed council chamber and declared her opposition to granting the permit.
“Not appropriate for an under-18 audience.”
The drag queen pictured eating “a live, bleeding heart, with blood dripping from her mouth” was Venus Ann Serena, a Black drag artist and member of Miss Fits Drag, frequent performers in nearby Nashville. Last week the group played Fat Kat Slims with their signature show SLAY.
In 2022, Miss Fits Drag played a family-friendly show at Franklin Pride, but without the live, bleeding heart.
Video shot at the event that year, allegedly showing a drag performer “gyrating” in front of a child in the audience, has had conservative Christians up in arms since. The controversy has been “hard on everybody,” in one alderman’s words.
Two weeks ago, online hate group Moms of Liberty overwhelmed another Franklin city council meeting set to vote on renewing Franklin Pride’s permit for the festival at a city park on June 3.
Emotions ran hot the day after three children and three teachers were gunned down at the Christian Covenant School in Nashville, just miles away, by a possibly transgender former student at the school.
“You think you are doing things based on laws,” one woman opposed to the Pride event told the meeting through sobs. “But you are letting Satan in. He will not take an inch. I promise you. He will take everything, and it will not stop.”
Local Pride organizers were clearly not prepared for the onslaught. Just six supporters spoke in favor of granting the permit that night, versus more than 30 in rabid opposition. That vote was delayed as the council considered a new Community Decency policy along with the permit, introduced to punish “bad behavior,” in the author’s words.
But Tuesday night’s meeting saw Pride supporters out in force, filling the council chambers and an overflow room, and wearing super-sized rainbow heart stickers.
First, the council delayed consideration of the Community Decency proposal, which critics described as targeted to Pride organizers and overbroad.
The proposal’s author, Alderman Beverly Burger, cast her vote opposing the delay saying, “I’m not targeting it to any group. You might think so. But I am not.”
Then supporters cheered loudly when Franklin Mayor Ken Moore announced he would cast his tie-breaking vote in favor of granting the permit — but not without a stern warning.
“The worst thing about what I am seeing is there is division among our community, and both sides have pretty much drawn a line in the sand,” Moore said during his opening statement.
He would vote for Pride to proceed, but, addressing organizers, said, “If you violate the trust we are placing in you right now, then I will work as hard as I work every single day to make sure that event never happens in Franklin again.”
The “live, beating heart” wasn’t mentioned again.