Isaac Kolesar testifies before the Soldotna City Council during a council meeting on Wednesday, July 12, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. Many attendees voiced their thoughts on a performance given by a drag queen in Soldotna Creek Park last month. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Isaac Kolesar testifies before the Soldotna City Council during a council meeting on Wednesday, July 12, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. Many attendees voiced their thoughts on a performance given by a drag queen in Soldotna Creek Park last month. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna drag debate heats up; city describes path forthward

Concerns over a June drag performance in Soldotna Creek Park escalated at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Soldotna City Council, where testimony on the performance dominated the meeting’s designated time for public comment with calls to the city for action.

Wednesday’s meeting was the third in a row where attendees packed the council chambers to talk about the performance, which was held as part of the 2022 Soldotna Pride in the Park event.

Public backlash was swift to a video shared to Facebook, which shows Anchorage drag queen Brendan Badd twerking and doing backflips in what appears to be a miniskirt and thong. Some attendees testified at a July 13 council meeting that the performer was wearing skin-colored leggings and the thong over the leggings.

Some attendees at that meeting said the performance should be considered a form of expression protected by the First Amendment, while others protested the sexually provocative nature of the performance and called for more restrictions on public use of the park.

Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen wrote in her Aug. 22 City Manager’s Report that she met with Andrew Carmichael and Joel Todd, of the city’s parks and recreation department, on Aug. 15. That meeting came about because of interest in revisiting the city’s park policy, Queen wrote.

Out of that Aug. 15 meeting came a list of “tasks” for city staff, including a review of the section of city code related to parks, research into municipal event space management best practices, updating the city’s application forms and facility use agreements, and performing an annual review of the park’s user fee structure.

“Once this work is complete, we will present drafts of the park reservation policy and any recommended code updates to the Soldotna Parks and Recreational Advisory Board, where the public will have opportunities to review, comment, and make suggestions,” Queen wrote.

Some attendees Wednesday, however, said a review of park use policies didn’t go far enough to address their concerns over obscenity. One speaker called on the council to pass a resolution condemning pedophilia, while another criticized the lack of city code directly addressing sexually explicit behavior in a city park.

“I’m extremely upset … because of the situation we’re in — that we can have people explicitly dressed, running around the parks, running around town with nothing be done and people not caring to do something about it,” one speaker said. “We have to care more.”

Erick Hugarte has been a vocal opponent of the performance. Hugarte previously served on the Soldotna City Council and is currently running for council’s Seat D. Hugarte accused the city of pushing the issue off and told council members that their “days are numbered.” Hugarte prefaced the remark by saying that it was not a threat.

“You guys think you can do whatever you want,” Hugarte said. “That’s cool, have your fun, but you really, really upset the community. One thing you guys got to remember is that there’s a lot of people in jail, who are not happy with what’s going on. Those are the people that you should be careful of, because those people? They’re in there for a reason.”

Queen interjected, saying that the council has rules against personal threats.

“I’m trying to understand the context of saying, ‘There are a lot of people in jail that are not satisfied,’” Queen said. “I’m taking issue with this because our city staff have been threatened.”

Soldotna Police Chief Gene Meek approached the table where Hugarte was speaking and followed him out of the council chambers. Meek said Thursday via email that no official action was taken, but that he told Hugarte “how his actions could be construed as threatening.”

“(Hugarte) repeatedly assured me that was not his intent,” Meek wrote.

Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney called for decorum around the park policies moving forward and said any policies passed by the council will need to be able to withstand a legal challenge.

City of Soldotna Attorney Brooks Chandler formally reviewed the incident earlier this summer and concluded that the city’s existing laws would not have allowed the city to deny a permit to Soldotna Pride for the use of the stage for a drag queen show.

He advised that any changes to city policy be “carefully considered and intended to achieve a stated policy goal other than government censorship of unpopular speech.”

Whitney said Wednesday that passing a law that could then face legal challenges would be costly for city taxpayers.

“It does not do any good to sit here and listen to comments threatening everyone in this community about this,” Whitney said. “There’s no reason for anyone on this council to pass any ordinance that cannot withstand a legal challenge.”

Wednesday’s full meeting of the Soldotna City Council can be viewed on the city’s website at

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at

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