North Battleford arts center responds to backlash against drag queen’s bingo fundraiser
Workers at an arts center in North Battleford say they have been overwhelmed by “hateful and discriminatory” calls and emails after a local church got wind of an upcoming drag queen bingo fundraiser.
Kali Weber, the executive director of the Dekker Center for the Performing Arts, said the messages started about a month ago.
“They called it vulgar, sexual and talked about what this one event would do to our community and they said, ‘Would there be more drag events in the community? And when would it stop?’” Weber explained.
“Our staff were quite upset and angry. Trying to stay professional in this environment is really difficult — especially when your own belief system doesn’t match what they’re telling you.”
Weber says the messages began about a month ago after a service at Territorial Drive Alliance Church.
In a sermon posted Jan. 22 on the church’s YouTube page, Rev. Keith Klippenstein tells the congregation that he has received messages from at least two church members wondering how the church plans to respond to the fundraiser .
“If you feel guided by God to call the Dekker Center, do so. But make sure your speech is seasoned with salt and that whoever answers the phone hears what you say regarding this event and yours express concern about it [knows] that they were talking to a follower of Christ,” Klippenstein told the congregation, referring to Bible verses.
Klippenstein declined CBC’s request for comment or an interview, saying in an email that he had “nothing further to add to the matter.”
Daniel Wasyliw, organizer of the bingo, says it’s hurtful to see people putting down an event raising money for the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“It’s just so sad to see a community — a really small community — have so much hate for an event that improves their community,” Wasyliw said.
Similar sentiments were expressed by one of the drag queens set to perform at the event, Ryan Young – also known by the stage name China White.
“I think it’s very surprising that a group would come out of the shadows and attack for no apparent reason,” Young said. “I’m very hurt by it.”
Michelle Winterholt, the executive director of the Battlefords branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, called the backlash “disheartening” and noted that the group supports inclusivity and diversity in the community.
In a statement, the city of North Battleford highlighted its role in the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities, which mandates that the city champion human rights and promote social inclusion.
“The city welcomes all community events, programs and initiatives that support and represent these values in a respectful and inclusive manner,” the statement said.
Young says the event is still keen to continue, and he personally welcomes anyone who has negative prejudices about attending with an open heart and mind to experience the joy for themselves.
“Just because someone is uneducated doesn’t mean they can’t have an education,” he said.
“If we can put them in a welcoming environment and not be able to point fingers or be bullies like they are to us and actually include them … maybe things would be very different.”