Sunday, October 1, 2023

Roanoke restaurant drag show sparks controversy

An all-ages drag show at a restaurant in downtown Roanoke over the weekend led to a tense standoff between protesters and armed counter-protesters.

Anderson Distillery & Grill, 400 South Oak Street, hosted a “family friendly” event dubbed “Barrel Babes Drag Brunch” on Sunday with professional drag artists lip-synching, dancing and performing comedy routines.

The sold-out event drew a large crowd, including “groups carrying rifles who indicated they were there in support of the private business,” according to a press release from the city.

The masked, armed supporters of the drag show were from the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, an anti-fascism group.

Anderson Distillery and Grill hosted a drag brunch that gained national attention.

“We did not hire or pay for security services from the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club for this event,” stated Anderson Distillery & Grill owner Jay Anderson via Facebook. “They were present of their own volition and cooperated with us to peacefully make sure our patrons and performers remained safe from protestors, who attempted to destroy property and threatened violence. We are grateful to the City of Roanoke Police Department for responding quickly when protestors became aggressive towards our patrons.”

Anderson added that he made an effort to hire an off-duty police officer for the event, but due to staff shortages, none were available.

“We are saddened that families were subjected to conduct that resulted in the presence of armed protestors, and believe this behavior was irresponsible, dangerous, and intolerable — our city will continue to investigate the incident,” said Roanoke Mayor Scooter Gierisch.

Despite public outrage, the event itself was not illegal, city officials said.

“While there were minor incidents that occurred outside of the establishment that are being investigated, the activity associated with the drag show did not violate the city’s ‘sexually oriented business’ ordinance,” the city stated. And there is “no specific state law that would prohibit children from attending.”

The city will be reviewing the ordinance to ensure it includes “all protective measures legally available consistent with state and federal law,” officials said.

“Freedom of speech is a paramount value, but we all know that it is also important to protect our children,” said Mayor Gierisch.

For his part, Anderson said the event was a big success.

“Yes, every table was full before we officially opened. Yes, we reached maximum capacity and had a waitlist to get inside. Yes, we ran out of food. Yes, we passed the “no sexual content” inspection from the Texas Comptroller’s Office,” said Anderson.

The city also received social media complaints regarding the possible serving of alcohol to minors. The city said those complaints have been turned over to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for further investigation.

“Having heard from our residents, rest assured that the city is investigating the incident and is pursuing all options to ensure our children are protected, and the safety of our community is not compromised,” said Mayor Gierisch.

“We recognize and understand the concerns expressed by the community that this activity fails to reflect the family values and caring culture that the city of Roanoke is committed to maintaining. We will do whatever it takes, working with our county and state partners, to maintain a culture of respect for families and in defense of our children.”

The show was hosted by Anderson’s son, Bailey Anderson a.k.a. Trisha Delish, a Denton drag queen.

“It was never my intention to host an event that would result in controversy, hate and divisiveness. It is my intention to welcome people from all walks of life into Anderson Distillery & Grill,” said Anderson.

“We completely understand if a patron does not want to support or attend the event; we simply ask for compassion and understanding for those who do. But, first and foremost, I’m a parent who loves and supports my children in whatever they do.”

CTG Staff
CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

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