Controversy Swirls Over Upcoming Drag Performance at Mass. High School

The principal said students are not required to attend the performance, which is part of Transgender Bisexual Gay and Lesbian Awareness Day

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A group of Newton, Massachusetts, parents are planning to protest a drag appearance being held at Newton North High School during the school day on Friday.

The drag performer Missy Steak is expected to talk and sing to students at the 30-minute assembly as part of Transgender Bisexual Gay and Lesbian Awareness Day.

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“If it were up to me, I’d say, ‘don’t do this event,‘“ parent Henry Barbaro said.

The school’s principal sent out an email to parents, like Barbaro, whose son is a freshman at Newton North stating that students are not required to attend and can go to the cafeteria while the rest of their class attends the drag show.

“This performance is really forcing the hand of parents to either do this draconian prohibition or say to their kids, ‘alright you can go,’ and hope for the best.”

But, Barbaro said, even in the best-case scenario he does not think a drag performer should upstage students’ class time.

“I just think it’s not age-appropriate, you know, it’s adult entertainment,” Barbaro said. “Do other things, more age-appropriate, less sexual.”

NBC10 Boston took the concerns of parents to Missy Steak on Wednesday, which was a day before a planned protest at Newton Centre Green against the performance.

“I’m not going to be doing anything that’s un age-appropriate,” Steak said. “It’s not sexual. It’s fun, it’s art, it’s clownery.”

In the e-mail to parents, the school’s principal states that the performer is aware of the audience’s age and is planning appropriately.

“We come in and we sing or we dance or we read, and we leave, and it’s just something we do for fun and to bring fun to other people,” Steak said.

Drag performances have become something of a flash point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Lawmakers in more than a dozen states, including Arizona, Texas, Kentucky and Montana, have tried to introduce laws that would ban such performances. In Tennessee, a law passed that banned “adult cabaret entertainment” on public property or in locations where it could be viewed by a minor. The law has sometimes been referred to as a drag ban. It was temporarily blocked by a judge who argued it was a violation of the First Amendment. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, white supremacist groups have targeted drag queen story hour at libraries and similar events in recent months.

Supporters of the restrictions on drag performance argue it's a means of protecting children from adult-oriented content. Opponents argue drag is an art form and a legitimate job for many performers, and that a drag performance is not inherently sexual or adult-oriented in nature. The proposed bills have also been decried as an attack on the LGBTQ+ community and culture.

The protest is being held from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Newton Centre Green on Thursday.

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