Drag performer Jasper Dragful accepts a crown after speaking about the history of drag during Soldotna Pride in the Park on Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Drag performer Jasper Dragful accepts a crown after speaking about the history of drag during Soldotna Pride in the Park on Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Pride postpones drag story hour event, citing safety concerns

The story hour was one of three events scheduled as part of a “Happy New Queer Winter Celebration”

A story hour featuring drag performers and scheduled for Saturday at the Soldotna Public Library was postponed by organizers Tuesday after the group reported observing “violent rhetoric” toward readers and participants.

The story hour was one of three events scheduled to take place as part of Soldotna Pride’s “Happy New Queer Winter Celebration,” which also includes drag trivia at The Goods in Soldotna and Queer Karaoke at The Bow Bar in Kenai. As of Tuesday at 3 p.m. neither trivia nor karaoke had been canceled or postponed.

The Soldotna Pride Facebook page shows that an event notice was first published on Dec. 9, with an event flier also shared in the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce’s Dec. 14 and Dec. 18 newsletters. Stories about the event shared by conservative news sites Must Read Alaska and the Alaska Watchman — posted Dec. 27 and Dec. 31, respectively — were shared widely in Kenai Peninsula social media groups.

Many who opposed the story hour event called attention to the name of one of the day’s featured drag performers — Ivanna Kischacok — whose name was later edited and then removed completely from the event flier. It was not immediately clear from the information shared by the Soldotna Pride group which of the five performers would be participating in the story hour event.

The City of Soldotna on Dec. 29 published a statement regarding the story hour event, in which City Manager Janette Bower said the city is not hosting the event. Rather, the Soldotna Pride group is hosting the event at the Soldotna Public Library’s community room, which any group may rent and use.

“It is important to note that the Soldotna Library routinely makes its rooms available for rental by various organizations and community groups,” Bower wrote. “These events are not hosted by the library itself, but rather by the renting organizations. This practice allows our library to serve as a welcoming and inclusive space for a wide range of community activities.”

In a Tuesday social media post announcing that the drag story hour had been postponed, Soldotna Pride said the decision to do so was made with a “heavy heart” and to prioritize the safety of the children and families planning to attend.

“Freedom to assemble and express one’s self is guaranteed by the First Amendment, thus, everyone should feel safe, secure and comfortable being their authentic selves and not live in fear of attending a public event in our community,” the group wrote.

Soldotna Police Chief Gene Meek said Tuesday via email that he has not been provided with any information, social media posts or direct knowledge of threats made to the group, but that he was told that threats were made.

Public backlash to the drag story hour event comes more than a year after Soldotna Pride faced similar community outrage in response to a drag performance held as part of the group’s annual June pride event. Community members flooded the Soldotna City Council chambers for multiple meetings in 2021 after a video of Anchorage drag queen Brendan Badd went viral in local social media groups.

The video showed Badd doing backflips in skin-colored leggings, a thong and a miniskirt during a performance at Soldotna Creek Park. The performance and associated community outrage prompted review by the City of Soldotna of its existing park policies, city council consideration — and ultimate defeat — of a citywide lewdness ordinance and changes to how the city notices events at the park.

The crux of the debate was the extent to which Soldotna could or should restrict the types of expression allowed in the city’s public spaces. City Attorney Brooks Chandler conducted a formal review of the city’s existing policies and made recommendations about what action the city could take, if any.

Chandler’s review found that the city could not have denied the Soldotna Pride group use of the city’s park just because their event lineup included a drag performance. In a memo summarizing the results of his review, Chandler said any changes to city policy should be “carefully considered and intended to achieve a stated policy goal other than government censorship of unpopular speech.

As of Tuesday around 4:30 p.m., a new date for the postponed drag story hour event had not been shared.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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