FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Walton Arts Center says it will not be hosting drag story time or drag performances for minors during Pride this year.

The Walton Arts Center says it’s still open to hosting pride events this year, just not drag performances or drag story time for 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.

“Our decision was made in the interest of safety concerns for performers, patrons and staff due to the divisive political rhetoric at this time,” the statement added.

This decision was made close to the Northwest Arkansas Pride weekend in June where the Walton Arts Center and the Northwest Arkansas Equality have a partnership to do a pride youth zone.

Richard Gathright the director of NWA Equality says this decision felt like a “slap in the face” by the Walton Arts Center.

Gathright says they have partnered with WAC since 2018 for NWA Pride and doesn’t understand why drag scares people.

“It just seems every few years, we get a flare-up of anger towards drag queens which just makes no sense to me,” Gathright said.

The Walton Arts Center said in a statement its decision was made out of safety concerns for performers, patrons, and staff but Gathright says he doesn’t believe that is the whole story.

“Pride always has safety concerns. It always has just because of the nature of the beast. We work hand-in-hand with the Fayetteville Police Department to ensure that all of our folks that come down to enjoy Northwest Arkansas pride are as safe as they possibly could be,” Gathright said.

An effort was made during the last Arkansas legislative session to ban all drag performances from happening on public property and prohibit minors from attending. That bill was then essentially gutted, taking out all mention of drag performers.

A decision Gathright says is hurting the youth the most and not letting them feel included in NWA Pride.

“The youth is actually saying, ‘No, this is not what we want.’ But you know, a lot of these folks in power don’t care, and they’re going to make whatever decision that they want. Regardless, of how the younger generations feel about it,” Gathright said.

The Walton Arts Center says NWA Equality chose to move all of its events from its facilities and move forward. Gathright says the Pride Youth Zone will be moved to the Fayetteville Town Center on June 24.