FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Saturday evening, the Arkansans for Social Justice held a protest at the Walton Arts Center to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, after the Walton Arts Center made a decision concerning drag performances and drag story time for minors.
The Walton Arts Center announced last week to not host any drag story time or performances for minors at their facilities during this year’s NWA Pride Weekend.
Jill Fields and her daughter Trinity Fields stood outside WAC protesting WAC’s decision and standing tall for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Being the mother of a queer youth it is very important that they grow up in a safe place and accepting place and things like this don’t represent that do they,” said Fields.
Richard Gathright the director of NWA Equality says every year during Pride weekend they host an NWA Pride Youth Zone at the Walton Arts Center that has more than 5,000 attendees.
However, the Walton Arts Center says because of safety concerns and the “policy to not allow parents, guardians, and caregivers into the Youth Zone” they chose not to have NWA Pride Youth Zone there at WAC.
NWA Equality says “Parents/guardians and children are welcome and encouraged to attend spaces together,” Richard Gathright said.
Jill says drag performances or story times are a form of art and it teaches her child things she can’t always put into words.
“It’s an art, and then everyone should be represented we also believe that no one should give in to hate,” Jill Fields said.
Arkansans For Social Justice at Saturday’s protest are calling for the removal of the CEO of the Walton Arts Center for making these decisions concerning the LGBT+ community.
“The action will continue until Peter Lane is removed from his position at the Walton Art Center and the other members of executive leadership that made this decision,” Caitlin said.
Co-organizers of Arkansans For Social Justice say they just wanted to be a voice for the voiceless.
“Hopefully what we want to do here today in order to protect children and advocate for them because often their voices are not heard,” Helen said.
The Walton Arts Center says this was not an easy decision for them to make but their decision will not end their support for the LGBT+ community.
BELOW IS THE FULL STATEMENT OF THE WALTON ARTS CENTER:
Walton Arts Center regrets that our recent operational decision around hosting some NWA Equality Pride Youth Zone activities has upset and hurt many in the community, which was not our intention. We want to share a deeper explanation of the decision.
First, we want to reiterate our unwavering commitment to the safe operation of our spaces and continuing to program our stages with an eye to what is current and relevant, celebrating all the diverse groups reflected in our Northwest Arkansas community. As we stated recently, drag is a performance medium that Walton Arts Center recognizes and presents on our stages regularly, and that will not change.
NWA Equality has long been a valued event client and partner, and Walton Arts Center has been a consistent advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community since our doors opened more than 30 years ago. When approached by NWA Equality for this year’s Pride events, we reviewed their proposed activities and logistical considerations for our spaces, as we do for all third-party events. Due to the charged nationwide political conversations around drag and minors that many times results in divisive and dangerous rhetoric, we asked if there was any way we could help NWA Pride reach its intended goals for the Youth Zone without drag performances for minors. When that was not possible, we requested that those activities be moved to another venue and offered financial support and assistance in securing another location. Conversations continued over several weeks, but we were unable to come to an agreement that worked for both organizations.
We understand that NWA Equality and the community it serves are well aware of safety concerns, as that is something they regrettably have to deal with on a daily basis. Our concern was not simply around the physical safety surrounding these events, but the policy to not allow parents, guardians and caregivers into the Youth Zone. We are equally concerned about how these events might be used in a political context particularly to further attacks against the LGBTQIA+ community, or to undermine the arts education work or overall operation of Walton Arts Center for the entire NWA community.
This was not an easy decision, or one that we took lightly, but is one we believe was necessary for this year’s event. Walton Arts Center has not ended its support for our LGBTQIA+ community, NWA Equality or the Pride Festival.
We encourage the voices of concern and protest to join us in helping cool the heated and hurtful rhetoric of the current political climate. We stand with all who oppose policies that unfairly restrict rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, as those policies harm individuals and impact the ability of businesses and industries across the state to bring artists and visitors to our region.
As an organization, we will learn from this experience and work to ensure that our entire community, including our LGBTQIA+ partners, understand how we assess operational concerns around events, and will commit to bring community partners into operational conversations earlier in the process.