What St. George residents said about drag shows at divided council meeting

Roughly 200 people packed the St. George City Council meeting Thursday.

(Chris Caldwell | The Spectrum & Daily News) Film crews from HBO shoot an episode of "We're Here" in St. George Friday, June 3, 2022.

St. George • Roughly 200 people packed the St. George City Council meeting Thursday to share their feelings about drag shows and the $625,000 confidential settlement the city gave to former City Manager Adam Lenhard.

Lenhard resigned under pressure after allowing a drag event in June on public property.

Some people spoke out about the need to protect children and defended the city’s handling of Lenhard’s resignation, and others countered that council members’ behavior toward the former city manager and the LGBTQ community smacked of bigotry.

April McKee, a St. George resident, decried the “transgender craze” and drag shows, attacking puberty blockers and hormone therapy for children.

As for drag shows, McKee said “we must protect our children from the grooming apparatus that has been set up” and called for Pride shows to be held in closed venues that are restricted to patrons over 21.

“Adults can choose for themselves,” she added. “God allowed the Israelites to debase themselves as much as they wanted until he withdrew his hand of blessing and protection from them. I do not want to see God’s blessing removed from this city. I feel that the city of St. George has covertly welcomed the pride community into our midst, sacrificing the innocence of our children, trying to maintain the facade of plausible deniability.”

Rusty Andrus said he was enraged by the attacks on the queer community in St. George.

“The fear and lies that are spread about our community translate into very real violence for us,” he said. “We are harassed and threatened here in St. George just for existing and attending events … Queer and trans people have families and children too. I have two grown daughters. I have three beautiful grandchildren. For someone to say that we are grooming children makes me sick to my stomach.

“Children do not need to be shielded from us,” he added. “Conversely, we need to protect ourselves and our families from the hatred that is coming from the City Council and from the progressively emboldened followers of the anti-queer, anti-trans and anti-drag show propaganda as a result. I truly fear for children who are raised around such hostility.”

Thursday’s emotionally charged meeting came a week after The Tribune reported St. George was paying Lenhard $625,000 as part of a confidential settlement agreement the city negotiated with the city manager to avoid what could have been a costly lawsuit for wrongful termination.

Lenhard’s resignation, effective Nov. 1, was the direct result of the “We’re here” drag show that HBO staged June 3 at St. George’s Town Square Park. Despite demands from the City Council that he cancel the show, Lenhard refused to revoke permits for the event, saying to do so would likely violate the First Amendment and land the city in a costly lawsuit. City Council members informed Lenhard he was being removed from office July 14.

St. George’s settlement with Lenhard angered city residents on both sides of the drag show divide at Thursday’s meeting. McKee called it a “golden parachute” that “smells like a cover-up.”

St. George Planning Commissioner Elise West blasted the council for discrimination and wasting taxpayer dollars.

“Your twisted need to create an us-versus-them narrative to maintain the illusion of power and control is costing all of us literally …,” she said. “You recklessly spend tax dollars to force our bright and competent city manager, Adam Lenhard, to resign simply because he refused to wrongfully discriminate and revoke a valid permit for an event you didn’t like. The entire reason he was forced to resign was because of your crusade of protecting the children.”

Brad Bennet said city administrators didn’t follow city code, which requires applicants wanting to use public facilities to submit applications at least 45 days before an event and restricts applicants from publicizing events before they are approved. He said HBO’s permit was approved in record time and the show’s organizers also violated the ordinance by publicizing the event before approval was granted.

Approval for HBO’s application, which was not submitted in time to meet the 45-day requirement, took about a week, but Lenhard argued in emails that provision in the code was not routinely enforced.

Another source of contention at Thursday’s meeting was an Oct. 18 event the Liberty Action Coalition hosted at the Green Springs Clubhouse in Washington City. Patricia Kent, founder of the coalition and write-in candidate for Washington County clerk/auditor, warned drag shows could have dire consequences on impressionable youth at the event.

“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.”

The Liberty Action Coalition was recently listed as a far-right extremist organization by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a progressive organization focused on the infiltration of extreme-right, racist and antisemitic organizations in state legislatures and on Facebook groups.

Sarah Ostler, president of the LGBTQ Club at Utah Tech, told the council that people in the LGBTQ community are not groomers or satanic.

“You’re looking at somebody who is going to be leading the next generation ... I deserve to feel safe in my community. And I have gotten calls and death threats. I am 19 years old. And I have had people, because of things that the City Council has been saying, telling me that I don’t belong, that St. George isn’t for me …

“I want to belong and be safe and be loved,” she continued. “I am just like you, and I’m just like your children and your aunts, your uncles, and everybody. I am a resident, and I’m urging you to love and support my community.”

Katheryne Knight said Kent and St. George City Councilwoman Michelle Tanner, who also spoke at the Liberty Action Coalition event, failed to provide any evidence that trans individuals and same-sex couples are grooming individuals or promoting a Satanist agenda.

Much of Knight’s remarks were directed at Tanner, who spearheaded the effort to remove Lenhard and has been vocal about her opposition to the HBO show and the subsequent drag show the LGBT Student Association at Utah Tech University hosted last month.

“This City Council person cannot claim to be a proponent of individual’s liberties and freedoms while simultaneously discriminating against Utah LGBTQ communities and their supporters for no other apparent reason than her personal beliefs,” Knight said.

While openly critical of the HBO and university drag shows, Tanner has repeatedly said she is not anti-LGBTQ and has a brother who is gay and a friend who “does drag.”