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Viral Chattanooga Pride video causes concern for some, but mom who took son calls it safe

Drag queens performs on the street with pink high heel shoe during Gay Pride Parade in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Image:{ }Drag show generic via Getty Images.
Drag queens performs on the street with pink high heel shoe during Gay Pride Parade in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Image: Drag show generic via Getty Images.
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UPDATE (October 5th):

Chattanooga Police told us Wednesday that no violations of the law were found.

That's after it was reviewed by CPD investigators and the Hamilton County District Attorney's office, according to CPD spokeswoman Major Jerri Sutton.


It’s Pride Week in Chattanooga, a week that organizers say celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer social and self acceptance, achievements, legal rights, and pride.

Organizers with Chattanooga Pride planned some events in Chattanooga for all ages. The events featured princess meet-and-greets, drag queen story time, and what organizers called a family-friendly drag show.

But now, a viral video that shows children attending some events has stirred up a conversation online.

A tweet posted Saturday by political right-wing activist Robby Starbuck shows a clip from the Chattanooga Pride Youth Day at Wanderlinger Brewing Company.

Watch the clip Starbuck tweeted below. We have edited the video to blur the faces of the children. Due to some inappropriate text at the bottom of the video, our version has been cropped as well.

Note: We do not know who specifically took the video, just that Starbuck shared it.

The first part of the video depicts a young child walking up to a woman dressed as the Little Mermaid, and putting her hand on the outfit's fabric just below her waist.

"It's not hard to redirect a kid away from that area if they grab near your crotch," Starbuck says in his tweet.

A Chattanooga Pride spokesperson told us that the performer is a biological female (meaning her gender identity is the same as what she was assigned at birth), and that she has performed for children in many events around town.

The Chattanooga Pride spokesperson also said the video Starbucks shared lacks context, not showing that the performer moved the child's hands away and moved away from her in the seconds after the clip stops.

And, the spokesperson says the viral video misleadingly features other events where children weren't present. (That spokesperson asked not to be identified in this story, and asked that those appearing in the video also not be identified, because the organization and its board members "have been threatened with violence and death" since Starbuck posted the viral tweet).

"I think it's clearly wrong," Starbuck told us via Zoom on Monday.

Starbuck says he believes a drag show open to children is inappropriate.

"If you look at even some of the biggest drag queens in the world, they're no stranger to admitting the fact that this is a very sexual, you know, sort of, we'll call it an art form," says Starbuck.

The Chattanooga Pride spokesman says Starbuck misrepresented what happened. Their statement reads:

"The individual portraying Ariel is not a drag performer but a biological female that does princess parties all over Chattanooga. Her tail was made out of a reversible sequin fabric, which is why the younger child was touching it. What the video did not show was the performer redirecting the child by shifting to the side.
In addition, some of the clips circulating about one of the performers was from a completely different event, that was not affiliated with Chattanooga Pride. This event was also marketed as 18+. Due to this no minors were present.
The lady that posted the video did not specifically call to action any kind of hate or violence; however, her followers are. Our board members have been threatened with violence and death. So to circulate this story will contribute to that.
We are working with professionals in the area to come up with a game plan for security.
There were 4 events at Wanderlinger that day. All sponsored by Chattanooga Pride but separate events in terms of what they consisted of. All the Princesses were biological women that do tons of events in the area.
When each event concluded everyone was thanked for coming and was also told about what was coming up, due to individual comfort levels."

Natalie Green is a mother of 3 who attended the event with her 12-year-old son. She says the child seen in the first part of the video feeling the fabric of the mermaid's outfit was an awkward, but innocent, moment.

"The princesses were not drag performers, those were cisgender women," says Natalie Green. "Nobody is forcing that child to do anything. She's like, three, she saw something that was shiny."

Green says it's important to her and her husband for their child to know the queer community is safe.

"It's incredibly important to us as parents, me and my husband, for our kids to really be immersed in the queer community," says Green. "I feel safer in queer spaces than I do most anywhere else. And that translates to my kids."

Green told us this is a bonding experience for her and her son.

"He and I watch RuPaul Drag Race together all the time," says Green. "And when I said, you know, 'hey, there's an 18 and under drag show, I want to take you to it,' he was super excited, couldn't wait to go."

Chattanooga Pride tells us that each attendee was notified of what the performance lineup was to tailor to individual comfort levels.

But many viewers reached out to us in the hours after Starbuck's tweet went viral. The tone of those tips indicated strong disapproval.

"I don't think that's appropriate for kids and kids should not be allowed to go to that," says Starbuck.

But Green disagrees, saying it's important to give kids this opportunity.

"I feel like, it's really important for queer kids to be in spaces like this," says Green.

Wanderlinger Brewing Company also gave us a statement:

"For the four years we have been open we have always worked hard to provide a family friendly environment at our brewery and be a space that is open and welcoming to all despite race, color, ethnicity, gender or orientation. We host groups including church groups, charities, bikers, musicians, LGBQT and anything in between.
We hosted Chattanooga Pride on Saturday September 24 as one of their locations to hold a Family Friendly Pride Event as part of Chattanooga Pride Week. We have hosted a few of these events over the last few years for them with one of the more recent even including local politicians. There were no prior concerns from events and no belief anyone would have objections to this event either. An individual secretly recorded this show with the purpose of targeting the LGBQT community and any establishments that work with them.
The video and picture that people are using as their backing is far off base. The mermaid that people are highlighting is an actual woman (born a woman, still a woman) who was part of the Disney princess group (Chattanooga Princess Parties) that was hired to support the rest of the show. The girl touching her sequins are kids fascinated with something shiny, not doing anything inappropriate to anyone as they are highlighting. The dance on stage was also a biological female as well (performer name Gin Von Tonic) who operated Chattanooga Pride and dresses in drag as an artform, but is a born biological woman. Angle showing the high kick (no different that a cheerleader or Rockette dancer) with multiple layers of tights and black drawers. This group has performed similar shows at Drag Brunches and Drag events all across town at many of the loved establishments you know well.
The families in attendance voiced no issues and supported the activities happening related to the event and have supported the promoter on social media defending their choice, their children and Chattanooga Pride.
People can easily say they approve or disapprove of what Chattanooga Pride stands for and believes in. They can find ways to highlight it’s good or it’s bad depending on what they want to showcase. We recommend questions of details of the event be directed to Chattanooga Pride."

Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp also tweeted about a similar event, saying:

"This isn't hard. Parents shouldn't take kids to drag shows and business owners shouldn't host drag shows aimed at children.
It's a shame this is happening on Ironman weekend when the best of our area is on display. For those visiting: no, these aren't our values."

Someone in the replies asked about the event at Wanderlinger Brewing Company, and Wamp replied, "All part of the same series of events. It’s gross."

UPDATE: On Tuesday morning, Mayor Wamp clarified his comments in a series of 2 tweets:

Mayor Wamp said,

Our office has been inundated from both sides regarding drag events targeting youth. As a dad, I’m opposed to little girls being given dollar bills for a drag show. I wouldn’t take my kids in the first place. But, any hate speech or threat of violence is despicable. For all the angst about the youth-targeted drag events over the weekend, we missed an opportunity to mourn the one year anniversary of the Grove St. shootings, which terrorized the Westside neighborhood. Fighting for justice for those families should unite us all.

Read more about those who took the opportunity to mourn the victims of the Grove Street shootings on the one-year anniversary here.

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Depend on us to keep you posted as we learn more.

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