JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Officials with East Tennessee State University said they decided to change the location of a student-sponsored drag show, just days before it’s scheduled to take place, and are asking student organizers to enforce an 18 and up age limit.
The Can’t Drag Us Down Drag Show & Story Hour was set to take place in the auditorium at the Culp Student Center, but on Wednesday event organizers said the college administration decided to move the event to the Millennium Centre, across the street from ETSU’s main campus.
“Student event organizers are expecting a large crowd and will be required to verify that all participants are at least 18 years of age. The event is being relocated to the Millennium Centre in order to accommodate the crowd and possible protests, to better manage the age verification requirement, and to implement increased safety precautions for those participating.”Jess Vodden, ETSU spokesperson
Student organizer Noah Nordstrom said the event is part entertainment, part protest against recently passed legislation on drag shows and gender-affirming care for minors.
“We are saying, ‘Sorry, but you can’t drag us down,'” said Nordstrom. “We have the right to be who we are, to have the kind of community that we are building, and we refuse to sit down and be criminalized by the state.”
But the state legislature isn’t speaking with one voice.
“This state kicked off the legislative session, as if ending drag was the most important thing to the state,” said Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville.
She will speak at Friday’s event along with former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson.
Nordstrom says he wants everyone to feel welcome at the event, which is scheduled to happen the night before the drag show law takes effect.
But an ETSU spokesperson says organizers now will be required to allow only people age 18 and older into the event even though it will happen before the law goes into effect.
“Though this event is happening the day before, as a public institution, we have a responsibility to honor legislative intent,” the spokesperson said via email.
Both the college and student organizers say they expect a crowd and potential protests.
“We will be having metal detectors,” Nordstrom said.
GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, reported that 141 drag events in 2022 were met with protests and significant threats. Of those, six were in Tennessee.
But Nordstrom says he’s optimistic that things will go smoothly.
“I have faith that our community, at the end of the day, is a loving community, and that we aren’t going to have violence and that we aren’t going to have so much animosity,” Nordstrom said.
ETSU is in communication with the Johnson City police and other public safety offices to ensure the event is secure, the spokesperson said.