FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A Fayetteville nonprofit is hoping that a petition will help reverse what it calls a “drag ban” at the Walton Arts Center.
Arkansans for Social Justice, a group that organized a protest at the arts center last week, has started a petition on change.org that it is hoping will reverse the WAC’s recent decision not to host drag story time or drag performances for minors during Pride Month this year.
The group says that the petition is “aimed at encouraging executive leadership at the arts center to reverse their controversial ruling on drag performances when minors are present.”
However, the Walton Arts Center says that drag was never banned in the first place.
In an internal memo obtained by KNWA, WAC CEO Peter Lane reiterated that drag was not banned.
“To be clear, Walton Arts Center has not banned drag shows and does not exclude minors from being present at performances that include drag,” the memo says.
Arkansans for Social Justice said in a release that the petition gained over 930 signatures since its creation a day ago. The group’s goal is 1,000 signatures.
Organizers with the group say that they hope the petition will allow community members to make their voices heard and ultimately lead to change within the Walton Arts Center.
“Unfortunately, at a time when drag and gender nonconforming people are being banned from many spaces and criminalized for existing across the US, and particularly the South, the decision by the WAC is yet another in a series of bad decisions by governments and private organizations. Though it isn’t an all-out ban on drag, the decision sends a clear message to the greater LGBTQIA2S+ community that the ‘welcome’ from the WAC will always come with conditions,” an organizer from the group said.
“Here is what we are asking,” the petition says. “Executive leadership reverse their ban on drag performances with minors present, refund ticket holders that request a refund and Peter Lane and those who made this harmful decision need to step down.”
“The drag ruling at the Walton Arts Center perpetuates dangerous stigma around the LGBTQIA+ population, insinuating that performers who use drag as a medium are somehow unsafe. We as an organization believe that the censorship of art, particularly queer art, is alienating to the LGBTQIA+ population and is antithetical to The Walton Arts Center’s mission and values,” Arkansans for Social Justice co-founder Caitlin Draper said.
The decision caused controversy in the area, even spurning nine members of the board of directors at the WAC to resign and for NWA Equality to pull all Pride events from the venue.
Lane cited one of NWA Equality’s policies regarding restricted parental access as a reason for the decision.
“When conversations and planning for this year’s event started in February, our executive team voiced concerns about plans to restrict parent, guardian, and caregiver access to the Youth Zone and drag performances for minors. It was and remains our policy that children under the age of 13 be accompanied by a parent, guardian, or caregiver,” the memo said.
The arts center recently responded to the controversy in a statement saying its decision to not host the events centered around the heightened and divisive political conversations around drag and minors.
“Drag is a performance medium that Walton Arts Center recognizes and presents on our stages regularly, and that will not change. We celebrate diversity both on and off our stages and are open to hosting Pride events this year except for drag story time for minors and drag performances by adults specifically for minors,” a statement from the arts center said.