Despite backlash, all-ages drag show in Fargo draws parents and kids
Scarlet Vision Productions held its first all-ages drag show in Fargo this month. One city official from western North Dakota said performers are trying to "corrupt" youth, while parents said they
FARGO — With names like Tequila Mockingbird, B.J. Armani and Miss Kitty, drag performers on the outdoor stage wore rainbow costumes and sparkly capes while they danced and lip-synced to pop songs in front of a crowd that included a few dozen children.
The “Can’t Drag Us Down” event this month at the Elks Lodge in north Fargo, which its promoter said was attended by about 250 people, may have been the first ever all-ages drag show in the city. Another all-ages show put on by a different promoter was held in Bismarck about a month prior.
Both events drew families with children of varying ages, and a heavy dose of criticism from a Washburn, North Dakota, man who started the Facebook page Protect North Dakota Kids.
Keith Hapip Jr. is executive director of the organization that he hopes will become a nonprofit. Hapip, who's also a newly elected Washburn city commissioner, said his main issue is with the all-ages aspect of the shows.
In posts leading up to the events, the Facebook page he runs claimed to “expose” the drag performers “coming to corrupt the youth.”
“When children are involved, that’s where the line is crossed,” Hapip said in a phone interview from his home in Washburn.
The Forum sat in on the Fargo show on July 16 and talked with some adults whose children were with them.
“We have our dollar bills ready,” said Greta Lauerman of Fargo, referring to the practice of tipping the performers.
Lauerman brought her sons, 9-year-old Kilian and 7-year-old Roscoe, to see the “fancy dancers” perform in the Elks Lodge parking lot.
“I just don't want them to think this is weird, or end up in a situation where they would bully or get bullied in the future,” she said.
Kara Gloe of Moorhead brought her daughters, 10-year-old Leona and 9-year-old Frankie. Beforehand, she talked with them about the show and Hapip’s view that watching a drag show hurts kids.
“They were totally confused,” Gloe said. “Why would people dressing up and putting on makeup be harmful to children?” she said her daughters asked.
Performers said they don’t understand Hapip’s stance, either.
Stephanie Dockter, 27, of Fargo, who goes by “Just Jeff” on stage, said it’s wrong to say they’re “grooming” children in any way.
“That’s just far from the truth, because they're just like me … coming out, and saying to themselves, I need a home and I need a community,” Dockter said.
Not hate, but 'love speech'
Keith Hapip Jr., 32, was born and raised in Williston, attended high school in Bismarck and moved to Washburn about 40 miles north of Bismarck three years ago.
He said he grew up in the Catholic faith but it never “made sense” to him, so he became a “declared atheist” for a time before checking out a church at his brother’s suggestion and becoming a born-again Christian.
Now a Reformed Baptist, Hapip has been married for six years and he and his wife have three children.
He works as a paramedic, owns a small woodworking business and was elected as a Washburn commissioner in the city of 1,300 people in June.
Protect North Dakota Kids is described as a political organization on Facebook and has about 350 followers, a list of whom is not visible.
Hapip said he didn’t protest the Fargo all-ages drag show because his organization doesn’t have much of a presence here yet, but he did protest the Bismarck show on June 18 using a microphone and wireless speaker, saying he was “preaching the gospel” to attendees.
Sarah Galbraith, 42, of Grand Forks, goes by the stage name "B.J. Armani." Galbraith, who performed at both all-ages shows, said Hapip was yelling at kids and their parents that God's love was not for them because they were going to the event.
“How sad is that, that someone would have to find hate and tell other people that they're unworthy of love,” Galbraith said.
Hapip doesn’t consider his words and actions as hate speech, but rather a non-affirmation.
“A hateful thing would come from an angry or mad heart," Hapip said. "We would actually consider it love speech."
He doesn’t see an issue with an elected city official taking this stand, even though his LGBTQ constituents in Washburn might find it hurtful.
“I took an oath and I swore to uphold the Constitution, not people's feelings. I do care what the people think obviously, and I would take that into account without showing partiality,” he said.
Hapip said he hopes Protect North Dakota Kids can be involved in educational conferences and perhaps a podcast in the future, with topics including LGBTQ and critical race theory “propaganda.”
He said he hopes to “just really help people out with a worldview education, as opposed to what's being fed to them by every single other major media outlet."
All-ages shows vs. 18+ drag
Hapip said the all-ages shows are evidence of drag performers trying to gain an audience of children.
Kyle Anderson, 34, of West Fargo, who goes by "Tequila Mockingbird" on stage, said they’re simply doing all-ages shows because people have been asking for them.
Anderson is a producer with Scarlet Vision Productions, which held the all-ages show in Fargo and promotes monthly drag shows and other events for 18+ audiences.
The differences between all-ages and 18+ shows are primarily in music and costume choices, Anderson said. The all-ages show also had volunteer security on hand, posted around the perimeter.
Songs at the all-ages show included hits by Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa and costumes worn included tank tops, jean jackets, skirts, leggings and pantsuits.
"Just Jeff," with spiked blonde hair and wearing a Hawaiian shirt and overall shorts, worked through the crowd and tossed suckers onto tables.
At times, children briefly danced or gave hugs to performers, and tips were either handed over or placed into bowls that were passed around.
"Miss Kitty" walked the stage in a pink wig, tights, a star-studded leotard, a rainbow train attached at the waist and a flowing cape with the words “LGBTQ” and “HUMAN” on each arm.
"Tequila Mockingbird" wore a form-fitting, upper-thigh length cheetah-print dress with heels and a curly, pink-tinged wig.
Even an 18+ show isn’t overly sexual, Galbraith said, but instead gives the hosts on the mic a chance to talk about safe sex, politics and human rights, and say a few swear words here and there.
Anderson let one of those words slip when talking to the crowd about growing up in a small Minnesota town.
As a young boy in a religious family, Anderson was encouraged to hunt, fish and “shoot guns” as pastimes, but Anderson shunned those in favor of playing dress-up.
When Anderson came out at age 16, friends of the family suggested a drastic remedy.
“My mom was very deep into the church. Her friends told her to get me shock therapy. She did not do it … because she knew I was different and she loved me anyway,” Anderson said.
Anderson went on to tell the children in attendance that if they’re in a situation where they don't feel safe or loved, they can “choose” their family of support.
“You are the next generation to come up … and please don’t f*** it up,” Anderson said, which was met with laughter and applause.
After that, one child in the audience was handed the mic and shouted, “Be who you are.”
A vow to 'keep doing what we do'
A parent whose child is questioning their sexuality or gender identity may have brought them to the all-ages drag show to help them realize they’re not alone.
For other parents, it was a deliberate move to give their kids a broader understanding of the world.
Kayla Heller of Moorhead said she attends drag shows often and her four daughters, ages 7 to 13, were excited to come to the all-ages show.
“I want my kids to experience everything in life and make their own opinions about whatever they would have opinions about,” Heller said.
Gloe describes her daughters as budding artists, and said she wants them to see all kinds of art forms and varieties of people, especially those “living their most authentic lives.”
Lauerman said she’s saddened that some of her LGBTQ friends weren’t comfortable coming out when they were younger, and she wouldn’t want that to happen to her kids.
“I want them to know that if that's what they end up being or if that's what their friends are, that doesn't change who they are,” Lauerman said.
She said there’s “no chance” of indoctrination.
“I don't believe people are going to be something that they aren’t, and if you celebrate yourself this way, we want to celebrate with you,” Lauerman said.
An 18+ drag show titled “Cruel Summer” will be held Saturday, Aug. 6, at the Fargo Elks Lodge. Another all-ages show called “Oh My Gourd, It’s Fall,” is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10, at the same location.
There will likely be more criticism of those shows, but Anderson said it's hoped that Hapip will eventually move on.
"Stop with your weird habit, because we're going to keep doing what we do," Anderson said.