On Oct. 25, the Starkville Area Arts Council (SAAC) decided to cancel the drag performances scheduled for the Cotton District Arts Festival.
SAAC Program Coordinator Juliette Reid said the decision was made because of threats made to end sponsorships and funding for both the festival and organization as a whole.
“When we were considering our decisions, we were only hearing from one side of the community. People from the queer community — a lot of them did not even know there was going to be a drag show. So, we weren’t hearing from them,” Reid said.
According to Reid, the opposing parties felt the drag show would not make the festival a family-friendly event.
“It was a lot of misconceptions that a lot of people, who don’t know about the queer community or drag at all, heard through the grapevine,” Reid said.
Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said she did not believe that any of the material was inappropriate.
“It is also one of those things where if you do not want to be there, then you didn’t have to be there. There was no command performance. There were three stages,” Spruill said.
Due to the negative feedback received from certain locals, SAAC released a new schedule excluding the performance from the lineup.
A day after the revised schedule was released, Starkville Pride released a statement on Instagram to speak out against the cancellation.
Along with Starkville Pride, Dave Hood of Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern wrote a response to the decision since he booked the drag performance for the festival.
“I wrote my letter to try and let everybody know what was going on,” Hood said.
In his statement, Hood wrote that he booked the show with pride and excitement as this year’s music and entertainment chair.
Along with a drag show, Hood had booked a gospel act to perform on the west side of the festival to adhere to multiple interests of attendees.
“Instead of all the alt-right Christians deciding to protest and stay home, they could have gone to the other side where I booked the best gospel band. Instead, they wanted a metaphorical pillow-fight,” Hood said.
Hayden Delacroy, known by his drag name Trinity Devine, found out about the performance cancellation from his contacts in the SAAC council.
“When I initially found out, I was angry and upset and just speechless because I’m only 22. I’ve never dealt with something like that,” Delacroy said.
After a discussion with Starkville Pride, Delacroy and other members decided to create a post to inform the community.
“We felt like when a major donor tries to pull funds to cancel a show, that’s not what an arts festival is supposed to be,” Delacroy said.
After making multiple posts to spread awareness, Delacroy said he sat down with three members of the SAAC board.
“You could tell by just the environment of the meeting that they knew what they did was wrong and that they were willing to learn from their mistake,” Delacroy said.
SAAC Executive Director Mary Switzer said the decision was soon reversed after a discussion with the performers, Hood, Starkville Pride and SAAC board members.
“We came to the conclusion that the cancellation was made too hastily without consideration of the impact and without conversations with the people outside of the sector who has given us all of the hate,” Switzer said.
Switzer and Reid agreed that the cancellation went against the council’s anti-discriminatory policy and organization mission as a whole.
“We, the Board of Directors, concluded that letting them perform was the right thing to do and the only decision that needed to be made,” Reid said. “And then, obviously, we would make changes to our committee members, and the way we go about sensitive topics like this in the future.”
On Oct. 29 at 2 p.m., the drag performance hosted by Trinity Devine and Fendi LaFemme occurred on the east stage.
Hood said the show was packed with one of the best crowds of the day.
Delacroy said he enjoyed the performance and appreciated the support given by the three SAAC members he met with.
“With kindness and compassion and understanding, you will have a higher chance of getting what you want,” Delacroy said.