Stephanie Queen, city manager for Soldotna, described on Wednesday the actions she is taking to possibly revise the terms and conditions for renting park facilities. A drag queen performance in front of children at Soldotna Creek Park caused an uproar in this Kenai Peninsula community on June 17, and it’s still the talk of this Kenai community.
During the Soldotna City Council meeting, Queen said she met with Parks Director Andrew Carmichael and Assistant Director Joel Todd on Aug. 15, and would soon meet with the Parks and Recreation Board, which would have a large role in creating any new boundaries that groups renting the stage would need to stay within.
Queen said would bring back to city council any recommendations for how to better protect children from obscene live shows at public parks. She said the process will take time to ensure the final standards meet any legal tests and she set an expectation for a draft agreement “later this fall.”
It appeared to some in the audience that the process was being dragged out to save the campaign for House by one of the council members: Justin Ruffridge, who ended up being the subject of much of the testimony from the public over the 20-minute public testimony period of the meeting.
That foot-dragging by the city was not satisfying for members of the community who spoke up during the 20 minutes they were given for testimony.
Tom Bearup former mayor of Soldotna, said the drag queen who danced suggestively before children at the park during the Pride Festival in June had not apologized to the community, as some have claimed, but had actually apologized to the local LGBTQ community for the backlash that the performance had drawn. Bearup said he had been personally abused by members of the LGBT community for his stance against the drag queen show for kids at the Soldotna Creek Park.
Isaac Kolesar, a citizen who has spoken publicly about the inappropriateness of the performance, asked the city council if it would be OK for a man to put a sock over his penis, cover his anus, have his wife wear pasties, and go down to the public park to perform for the kids. He was making a point, which was that all reasonable people would consider that obscene.
He said that in Mayor Paul Whitney’s own email, the mayor acknowledged that the performance was inappropriate for an open venue. “You believe it’s inappropriate. You work for the people. Yet you do nothing,” Kolesar challenged Mayor Paul Whitney.
Kolesar said had even more harsh words for Councilman Ruffridge, as did most who testified.
“You spoke to my wife and I for almost a month about this issue, during which time and through two city meetings you did nothing. You never took a public stance and did nothing,” Kolesar said.
“You said you heard ‘the people and it was 50/50.’ No it was not. It was 50-1. You heard the LGBT community say they want their rights. They got ’em. What you missed was us asking for verbiage covering public obscenities, which has nothing to do with any group. Even if the LGBT community thinks it’s an attack on them, it’s not,” he said.
“If you want to count the first meeting and say that there were two opposing sides and it was 50-50 you can. But the city council presented only a small portion of the emails publicly. Now that we have the emails we know that people that want change out number the others approximately 1 to 50,” Kolesar said, explaining that he had copies of all the emails the council received.
Kolesar explained that he is not against the LGBT community, and even LGBT citizens don’t support public obscenities targeting children.
“If you did your job and checked your emails on the matter you’d know this,” he said.
Kolesar also scolded the council for not keeping the matter as a priority on the agenda.
“You have/had the ability to bring it onto the agenda during that time and even until now — and you never did. You constantly assured us that you were appalled by what took place and agreed that ordinances or definitions should be looked at to prevent public obscenities. You did nothing,” he said. “You told my wife and I it was not on the agenda and it ended up it was [on the agenda.] I feel you were misleading us.
The event coordinators of the drag queen show now support Ruffridge in his run for Alaska House, Kolesar said, adding that it makes sense that Ruffridge won’t take a stand for fear of losing votes.
Kolesar’s notes to the council continued, but his three minutes were up. What he was not able to say was, “We are not like you. We have convictions that we are willing to stand up for. We have been drug through the dirt, slandered against, threatened with physical harm, I could go on. Unlike you, we are convicted and actually care enough to stand up for what’s right. I hope you’re taking notes on what conviction and standing up for what you believe in looks like.”
Josh Sclizo, who owns a business in Soldotna and is a father of six children, also spoke about the need to protect children and families from sexually charge content in public spaces.
“Whether it’s lewd dance performances or internet porn, it’s part of the grooming process that provides pedophiles with a field of vulnerable victims. Our community has enough problems with the sexual exploitation of children without inviting more,” he said.
Another Soldotna man explained that he grew up in gang culture, and understood well how people can be desensitized to things like violence from a young age. He said sexualized performances for children were a way to desensitize them.
Mayor Whitney stopped the man just as he was making a veiled threat that if the council did not act, there were people who would act. He was escorted out by police.
Nearly all of those providing testimony had a pointed message for Councilman Ruffridge, who is running for House against Rep. Ron Gillham, a known conservative in the district. They told Ruffridge if he thought he was ready for higher office, then he’d better learn how to take a stand.
The testimony of concerned parents is captured on the Must Read Alaska YouTube channel at this link:
Wednesday was the second time the public has testified to the council about the performance, and the citizens were frustrated that the council and the city manager have not acted in any substantive way. In July, dozens of Soldotna residents showed up at the city council chambers to voice their discontent with the city for allowing drag queens to perform for children — children who were then encouraged to shove dollars at the performers who twerked and mimicked nudity in what was clearly adult material.
Some who testified in July in favor of the drag queen performances for children blamed Must Read Alaska for creating the controversy. Threats against business owners who have spoken out against the burlesque children’s event have been ongoing, according to documentation seen by Must Read Alaska.