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The student voice of West Potomac High School

The Wire

The student voice of West Potomac High School

The Wire

The student voice of West Potomac High School

The Wire

Demonstration Against Drag

Protesters organized outside of the Springbank parking lot in a demonstration against the Drag Queen Brunch hosted by Beyond the Page Theatre Company
Miles Keogh
Photo of protesters organized outside of the Springbank parking lot. It was alleged that after this photo was taken, more protestors arrived.

Saturday, May 4th, 2024, protesters assembled at the West Potomac sign by the entrance of the Springbank parking lot. These protesters held signs saying things like “An innocent child is a happy child” and “Education not indoctrination.” The protest began sometime before 10 a.m. with more individuals joining the group as it went on. School security and county police monitored the situation.

Mr. Deiter, technical director for Kinky Boots, shared his perspective of the protest: “The protest was motivated by ignorance, hate, and bigotry. It was clearly intended to dehumanize LGBTQ individuals whether they be students or adults.”

Mr. Cruz, director of the show agreed, saying that, “[It was motivated by] an unwillingness to accept people for who they are.”

A woman in the protest from the Colonial Mount Vernon Republican Women’s Club —who declined to disclose her name— described how several organizations were present at the protest. While no specific organizations were named, she added that some of those organizations were Catholic affiliated.

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“We are upset that West Potomac decided to do a trifecta of events,” the woman explained. “First one would be the Kinky Boots musical. That is inappropriate for high school level students.”

The Wire’s reporters who saw Beyond The Page’s production of Kinky Boots the Musical did not find the show to be inappropriate for high school students. Music Theatre International rates the musical as PG-13.

“It’s good for high schoolers to put on a production such as Kinky Boots because it has so many important messages… It’s so important to hear that from someone who is [maybe] in a similar position,” Ms. Gervacio, choreographer for Kinky Boots, said.

The unnamed protester continued, “And then they also did a talkback with FCPS Pride. That was all ages. It’s when children and adults speak with LGBT groups, and the parent does not need to be present. We think that the parents should be present.”

At the talkback, audience members were encouraged to provide input on the value of the story and accomplishments of the cast and crew.

“During the talkback, this one person was talking about how [Kinky Boots] is so joyful,” Ms. Gervacio said.

“We’re really not sure that unaffiliated groups like that should be on campus talking to students,” the unnamed protester added. “If it’s not part of the school or school sanctioned, then those groups do not need to be here.

Sexuality and gender was not discussed but the importance of community and recent backlash against LGBTQ+ subjects was. FCPS Pride, who had a member speak at the talkback, is an organization for FCPS staff, students, parents, and other Fairfax residents. The organization describes itself as people “joining together for a public school system in Fairfax County and City in which each person is welcome, safe, included and respected regardless of their identities, including but not limited to identities related to gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression.”

“And the third thing [being protested] was the drag brunch that occurred at noon [Saturday],” the unnamed woman said.

She described how people wrote to Jessica Statz, West Potomac’s principal. Additionally, people wrote to Mateo Dunne, the school board representative of the Mount Vernon district, along with other school board members as well as to Michelle Reid, the superintendent.

“We wanted to know some basic information and they didn’t answer any of our emails or calls. They didn’t respond to us,” she said.

The protesters gathered made it clear that they believed the drag brunch was not appropriate for children.

“It mocks women,” the unnamed protester claimed. “The performers are scantily dressed. It’s an all ages show. Parents are not required.”

Beyond the Page does not share that opinion, affirming that the drag brunch hosted in the Kogelman Theatre was family friendly.

“People have this misconception on what drag performance is,” Mr. Cruz described. “[People] think it’s pornography, stripping, or adult themed, and although some drag performances can be, you can’t generalize all drag performances to be that, just like you can’t generalize any other group of people [as] being one thing or the other.”

Photo taken of drag performer Pirouette during the drag brunch (Rowan Keogh)

“The performers do not receive mandatory background checks. Anyone who enters this campus needs to have a mandatory background check. That’s actually mandated by the state,” the woman alleged.

FCPS Policy states that background checks are not required for “volunteers who help with occasional events―such as field day, graduation parties, field trips, virtual programs and similar activities―provided there is direct supervision of the event by active school personnel.” The Wire couldn’t find any information on a statewide policy requiring that performers at schools receive background checks. While the performers at the brunch were paid a stipend, this was paid for by the Theater Boosters, not FCPS, and the performers were supervised during the event.

Despite the protest, Beyond the Page felt that their production and surrounding events were a success in many areas.

“I think a lot of people really focused on the negative propaganda that we got but the positive feedback and support really overshined the negative,” Mr. Cruz said.

Charlotte Parker, a freshman who played Trish in the musical, described how the production affected her: “When you’re in the numbers it feels like everybody is a community. Even in rehearsals, we’re all connected [by the show] and it’s like nothing can stop that.”

The musical was Ms. Gervacio’s second show with Beyond the Page. Beyond the Page worked with the West Potomac choir director, Nelly Solares, and students from band, orchestra, and chorus. Ms. Gervacio expressed a hope that the show has laid the groundwork for future collaboration between the Theater Department and the Music Department.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Ms. Gervacio said. “The growth that I’ve seen in [the cast and crew] right from the beginning of the process to closing [is] huge.”

“I felt extremely inspired to continue pushing activism in the arts,” Mr. Cruz said.

The protest at West Potomac is only one of many protests against events like drag queen story-times, brunches, and other family friendly drag events. Additionally, the LGBTQ+ community and the topic of how student identity relates to parent rights has come under question. In July, 2023, the Virginia Department of Education released model policies that recommended school boards to require school personnel to refer to students by the name in their official record and use pronouns that identify with the sex listed in their official record. School personnel would be required to use the student’s “official” name and pronouns unless the student’s parent wrote a note instructing that other name and pronouns be used. Fairfax County refused to adopt this policy.

“As educators, we need to shine the light on subject matters and events happening in the world that need to be addressed and talked about,” Mr. Cruz described. “Change doesn’t happen by not addressing things. And right now, the LGBTQ community needs advocates.”

Ms. Gervacio added, “Change comes from growth. Growth is uncomfortable. Physical growth is uncomfortable. Mental [and] emotional growth should also be uncomfortable because if you’re not allowing yourself to experience other perspectives and take a minute to sit with that discomfort, then you’re not growing.”

Beyond the Page looks forwards to producing future shows that follow Lola’s six steps to success:

  1. Pursue the truth.
  2. Learn something new.
  3. Accept yourself and you’ll accept others too.
  4. Let love shine.
  5. Let pride be your guide.
  6. Change the world when you change your mind.

“We have a group of people who refuse to learn anything about the show, the brunch, or the performers and approached it with a close minded perspective, ignorance, hate, and bigotry,” Mr. Deiter added.

“These are the stories that are not meant for [the demographic of people that protest against LGBTQ+ representation and drag queens]. It is for the ones who are marginalized, the ones who are traditionally misrepresented or left behind. In this day and age, everyone deserves to been seen, everyone deserves to be heard,” Ms. Gervacio said.

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