KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On Thursday, the Tennessee Theatre hosted a performance featuring drag performers — "A Drag Queen Christmas."
It was the eighth year in a row that the show has gone on, according to its website. This year, performers and organizers were faced with outrage from some groups across East Tennessee. Around 500 people attended a demonstration against the show, gathering near Krutch Park in downtown Knoxville.
As of Dec. 20, tickets were sold out for the show. Doors opened at 7 p.m., but the anti-drag demonstration officially started at 6:30 p.m.
"I heard this drag queen show was going on. I'm not on any social media. But I said, 'Well, I've been asking the Lord to send me to the next place He wants to send me.' So we came. We live in by Johnson City, an hour and a half out here," said Angela Grant.
She said she came to pray across the street from the Tennessee Theatre. Angela and others standing across from the Tennessee Theatre said they believe drag shows for all ages are inappropriate.
"It's everything evil. There's nothing good about it. God made man, he made woman. He did not make men or woman to be the opposite of that. And I just think it's pure evil," Grant said.
Although some said they heard about it from word of mouth, the demonstrations were largely organized through social media, from a page that claims to be managed by "Pastor Ken Peters - TCAAP." He is a figure who gained national attention for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection and for founding "The Church at Planned Parenthood" (TCAPP).
Around five people were also seen at the anti-drag demonstrations wearing the symbols of the Proud Boys. The far-right extremist group has a history of violent confrontations, including one in Spokane at an event that was organized by TCAPP.
In this case, the Knoxville Police Department said there were no arrests made during the protest. All demonstrations went forward without incident or violence, they said.
In response, groups of demonstrators gathered across the street at the theater for a "Stop the Hate Rally." There they chanted and held up signs emphasizing LGBTQ pride.
"I'm a proud Tennesseean and I'm ashamed of this. I think people hiding behind kids and saying that they care about kids so they could spew hate in the streets is disgusting," said Drew Morgan.
He came as an ally of the LGBTQ community.
"I wanted to come out and support free speech, and my friends, and the trans and drag community of Knoxville," Morgan said.
There were also a handful of demonstrators dressed in body armor with helmets and dark clothing on the side of the road with counter-demonstrators. One person's body armor was labeled "antifa" — a decentralized, leaderless movement made up of loose collections of groups, according to the Antidefamation League.
Officers from the Knoxville Police Department were in the area to monitor the demonstrations. Earlier in the day leaders from Knox Pride Interfaith, a coalition of LGBTQ-affirming faith leaders, held a press conference where they said they opposed the anti-drag demonstration.
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon also attended the event, sharing a photo of a packed theater on social media. The demonstration ended peacefully.