‘They are grooming our children for immoral satanic worship’: Southern Utah politicians target drag shows

“This is supposed to be the new exciting lifestyle and everybody’s supposed to love it,” Patricia Kent said.

St. George • Drag shows in the St. George area are promoting same-sex attraction, grooming children for satanic purposes and are being abetted by civic leaders who won’t stand up for what is right, according to a candidate in Washington County.

That’s the warning Patricia Kent, write-in candidate for Washington County clerk/auditor, and others sounded at Liberty Action Coalition’s meeting Tuesday at the Green Springs Clubhouse in Washington City.

During her remarks at the meeting, Kent presented pictures that purportedly showed youth at a recent drag show in St. George.

“Those are children, teenagers at best [who are] being promoted to the ideology of same-sex transgender,” she said. “This is supposed to be the new exciting lifestyle and everybody’s supposed to love it. They are grooming our children for immoral satanic worship.”

Kent founded Liberty Action Coalition in July 2020. Since then, coalition members have united to oppose socialism, mask mandates, Black Lives Matter and mandatory vaccinations for children. They also took to the streets two years ago to stage a mass vehicle rally in support of former President Donald Trump’s failed bid for reelection.

Now, the 4,000-member coalition has a new target in its crosshairs: drag shows. Coalition members argue men dressing up as women in the public square harms civic virtue, community morals and children, whom they say are being dragged down to the depths of depravity.

Borrowing lyrics from the hit Broadway musical “The Music Man,” Kent told the roughly 80 people at the meeting, “We got trouble … We got big trouble.”

Kent, who is also the national chair of the American Independent Party, was one of many at the meeting who are incensed by the “We’re here” drag show that HBO staged June 3 at St. George’s Town Square Park. The event drew about 1,400 people.

Despite some opposition, city administrators — on the advice of city attorneys — refused to scrap the show, saying they could not discriminate and risk incurring a lawsuit from the show’s organizers. That riled some in the community, including St. George City Councilwoman Michelle Tanner, who was openly critical of City Manager Adam Lenhard for not shutting down the event.

Lenhard announced his resignation earlier this month, effective Nov. 1.

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) Leeds Mayor Bill Hoster makes remarks during a meeting of the political group Liberty Action Coalition, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022.

HBO’s show took place near the St. George’s Children’s Museum in the heart of the downtown.

At the coalition meeting, Kent said those who oppose such shows are often told the city has to be fair and treat all groups equally.

“Does that mean if we get a nudist colony from California who wants to come to St. George and have a rally in our town square that we’re going to allow it?” she asked.

Kent said if the area keeps trending in an immoral direction, that drag queen story hours could become a reality at local libraries like it is at some libraries in New York.

Leeds Mayor Bill Hoster and Councilwoman Tanner were also featured speakers at the meeting. In his remarks, Hoster drew a line between violence and violent video games like Doom, which he alleged led Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to kill faculty and their fellow students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999.

“We currently have a crisis with human trafficking, with sexual assaults and pornography, addictions, and even pedophilia,” Hoster said. “All of these have been directly associated with exposure to pornography, sexual abuse of minors, and [the] desensitizing of all forms of media.

“So if anyone doesn’t believe that the parading men dressed as women … wear[ing] fishnet stockings and spandex, grinding themselves on stage and parading themselves in front of children isn’t going to have an impact,” he continued, “those prior examples I just gave should give you a conviction.”

Hoster also takes issue with those who argue opposition to drag shows and other such events contributes to suicide, especially among youth in the LGTBQ community. He said his research shows there is no correlation.

“There are no [studies] that prove someone committed suicide as a result of their sexual orientation,” he said. “And the reason is because we can’t ask [victims of suicide] after the fact. That’s the reality.

“But,” the mayor added, “[the LGBTQ community] will try to make this causation correlation and say, ‘Well, because this group has experienced increased violence, increased depression and increased anxiety, therefore we’re going to say that they’re likely to commit suicide.’ So this is the reason that we should allow them to dance before your kids and groom your kids.’ "

Many studies have shown that LGBTQ adults and youth experience a significantly elevated risk for suicide and suicidal behavior. LGBTQ adults are two times more likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual adults. Among transgender adults, the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts is 40%, according to national data from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey.

Coalition members are equally mortified by the drag show the LGBT Student Association at Utah Tech University hosted in the Gardner Center Ballroom on Wednesday night. They argue it is a misuse of tax dollars to allow such events at taxpayer-supported institutions like Utah Tech University.

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michelle Tanner, a candidate for St. George city council, speaks at an event in Leeds, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022.

Tanner blasted the university on her Facebook page, saying she “used to be proud to say I have a degree from Dixie State University. Under its current direction however, I now wouldn’t send my child there if it was free … This community deserves better than ‘Woke University.’ "

Dixie State University was renamed Utah Tech University last July.

In response to critics, university officials say they oversee 85 chartered clubs of varying interests and beliefs aimed at helping students find a place to belong on campus. In a prepared statement released this week, administrators said:

“Student clubs and events are paid for through student fees and not state tax revenues. Nearly all higher education institutions across Utah host similar events to support their LGBTQ organizations. The university cannot take away rights of expression or withdraw resources based on the content or viewpoint to be expressed at the event, as those rights are Constitutionally protected. As an institution of higher learning, UT is committed to supporting students in all clubs so their events can accomplish their desired goals.”

UT English professor Alexis Ence, who also spoke at the coalition meeting, said the university’s drag show is demeaning and creates an unwelcome environment for women on campus. Ence said she is tired of being told nothing can be done to stop drag shows because it infringes on people’s constitutional right to free speech.

“Yes, free speech is important,” she said. “You know, what else is important? Not discriminating. And if you think that women aren’t being discriminated against when men are dressing up … and impersonating women, if you think that that’s not discrimination, [then] maybe you need to look up the definition.”

Ence, who characterizes the school as being rife with liberal indoctrination, sent an email about the show with the school’s Title IX office. Title IX requires institutions that receive federal funding to protect faculty, students and staff from sex-based discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Troy Williams, the head of Equality Utah, is disgusted by Liberty Action Coalition’s crusade against drag shows.

“It’s sad to see elected leaders spread irrational moral panic and hysteria in small communities,” he said. “It reminds me of the Salem Witch trials or attacks against our Latter-day Saint pioneers. History is full of tragic stories of frightened people who try to scapegoat a minority population and whip up an angry mob to run them out of town. But queer Utahns are not going anywhere. Drag is an American art form. LGBTQ people are protected by state and federal laws. We will not cower or be intimidated by rhetorical pitchforks and torches.”

Jessica Dummar, co-CEO of the Utah Pride Center, echoed Williams’ concerns.

“The Utah Pride Center has concern when elected officials overtly express governmental overreach into individual and family issues,” she said. “If a parent does not want their child to attend a drag show, that’s OK. If a politician believes they can decide for all parents what is best for a child by usurping parental rights, we should be concerned about our fundamental rights as caregivers.

“The assumption that drag shows are prurient in nature infantilizes and devalues feminine gender expression,” she added. “A critique of correlative outcomes, by humans that make overreaching conclusions to vilify and stoke rage without supporting data, is continuing a toxic conversation where there is a refusal to see the power in authenticity and supportive community.”

Such criticism does little to dissuade coalition members and supporters. Hoster is in the process of drawing up an ordinance that would restrict drag shows and other adults-only type entertainment in Leeds, a tiny town situated 15 miles northeast of St. George. For her part, Tanner said she wants to get similar legislation enacted at the state level.

Tanner joined Kent and Hoster at the meeting in urging attendees to unite and pressure civic leaders to stand up for decency and protect children.

“We are all born at this point in history for a divine purpose, and that’s what I really hope that we can all look within ourselves and figure out what that is,” she said.

Tanner acknowledged success won’t come easy for the coalition.

“The opposition is ginormous. But we have God on our side. And if God is for us, who is against us?”

Correction • This article was updated to include the correct title for St. George City Councilwoman Michelle Tanner in a photo caption and the name of the town the event occurred in.

Alexis Ence also sent an email to the Title IX office, not a formal complaint.

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