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Drag shows dragged to the political stage after shows canceled across East TN

Drag shows across East Tennessee were canceled after pressure from some groups.

Chris Salvemini, Katelyn Keenehan

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Published: 8:16 PM EST November 8, 2022
Updated: 9:55 PM EST November 8, 2022

In East Tennessee, as the calendar turned to October, people's minds turned to one thing — Halloween.

Families prepared their costumes. Some dressed as vampires, and others donned shoulder pads to go as football players. Kids dressed as animals accompanied by their parents who were now fanged, painted and cheerful.

Meanwhile, one group was planning to host an all-ages event where the community could gather and celebrate Halloween. It was called the "Murvul Punk and Drag Haunted House" and it was going to be at The Bird and the Book — a business in Maryville that has earned a reputation as a community gathering place over the years.

In the past it has hosted movie showings, trivia and other events. It also hosts a routine drag bingo event.

Just 48 hours before the all-ages Murvul Punk and Drag Haunted House was scheduled to go on (and after almost 100 tickets were sold), organizers got a message from police. The chief of the Maryville Police Department said he spoke with the state attorney general and another legal advisor and said the event had to change or be canceled because of the venue's proximity to a church.

Hosts altered the event to be 18+ but similar events in East Tennessee could not change that quickly. A 'Drag Me to Nature' event at Ijams Nature Center was canceled and so was another drag-theme show at a small location in Alcoa.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs also posted on social media, saying he would do "...Everything I can to ensure these events don't happen on Knox County property." Ijams gave WBIR a statement about their canceled event. 

"Some inaccurate information was been circulated, so I want to provide you with complete, accurate information. Ijams Nature Center is very careful regarding our program content. This event was organized with members of the LGBTQIA community to be a family event that involved people dressed in nature themes (birds, butterflies, etc.) and/or magical creature themes (elves, fairies, etc.) with song and dance as part of our Back Patio Social Series. It was never going to be a traditional drag show with burlesque elements. It was to be a celebration of nature in costume and song. Due to this confusion, we canceled the event.

Ijams will continue to seek ways to engage all of our citizens in Ijams' mission of connecting people to nature. Nature is for everyone to enjoy, as is Ijams Nature Center.

I apologize for any confusion.

Mayor Jacobs and Knox County are important partners with Ijams Nature Center. Without the County's support, we wouldn't have some of the wonderful facilities at Ijams' Mead's Quarry; such as the ADA pathway, swim dock, bathrooms, and Primal Playground. Ijams Nature Center is fortunate in our great relationship with Knox County and Mayor Jacobs."

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