FAIRHOPE — Concerned citizens addressed the Fairhope City Council Monday about the Color Fairhope with Pride 2023 event. The Fairhope residents asked the council to improve the vetting process for events, and one man requested the councilmen attend the event themselves in drag.

The third-annual celebration of pride is planned for June 3 at South Beach Park, near the Fairhope Pier. Prism United Fairhope, a chapter of Prism United, is a "non-profit that was formed to address needs of LGBTQ youth," according to its website.

The event, along with a drag brunch the next day, has caused some residents to object publicly due to the possibility of children being exposed to adult-themed content.

Carol Wilson asked for the protection of children during the event.

"In order to protect children and youth from inadvertent exposure to any inferred or explicit adult-themed content, I ask that you please consider revising city policy," she pleaded. "Consideration is asked to add a vetting process to the applications for a vendor to hold an event on city property."

Wilson suggested ratings be given to events on public property, much like the movie industry ratings for explicit content.

"Consider establishing categories," she added. "General audience; parental guidance; parents strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; restricted under age 17; requires accompanying a parent or adult guardian; or rated X – no one under 17 is allowed."

She also asked for the June 3 event to be moved to a private venue.

Dr. Lou Camponenosi, the president of the Common Sense Campaign, took to the mic, asking the city to push back on woke ideology and transformative values. He gave examples of how the state legislature and local schools are fighting against those ideologies.

"So, we have this general community view that there's something wrong with 'woke," Camponenosi said. "And I think that at this particular juncture, with what Mrs. Wilson just suggested to you, is that there needs to be some sort of an affirmation that children do not need to be exposed to this.

Age limits and private venues were the suggestions from Camponenosi because he said it is important to balance the rights of festival-goers with the values of the community.

Carol Schneider, who walked through the festival last year, said she went to the council to report what she witnessed. She said the activities were not appropriate and did not represent her values.

"These are terribly lewd programs for our children to be witness to," she said. "I just hope you can talk about it among yourselves and try to come up with a way to stop this."

A newly added "bearded drag queen" named "Canya Bendher" will be part of the entertainment at the pride event at South Beach Park. Organizers posted, "Who knows what this unique performer has in store for attendees? We can't wait to find out!"

Canya Bendher has previously worked drag events and helped with storytime for children while dressed in drag. He also posted on Instagram about a bill recently filed in the legislature that would protect children from obscene material by adding drag shows to the list of "sexual conduct" prohibited in public places where minors are present.

"Well, this sucks," Canya Bendher posted. "This is the bill being introduced to make it illegal to perform drag in public places where minors are present and potentially more. The more I read this bill, the more I am confused my [sic] the wording because it's left so open for interpretation about "sexual or gender-oriented material" yet goes in detail about how the individual is dressed and/or drag performer. Besides that, this can really hurt the shows and spaces where kids can openly see queer and LGBTQ supportive/affirming adults being themselves and/or performing. As a drag performer I just want to entertain people by performing songs through my art of bearded theatrical drag. Also show how beautiful you can be with a beard regardless of gender. I just don't get how this will help our youth. Beyond that, we got to ban together. Call our representatives and stop this from happening. This is a time to get our community involved."

As a woman, Lisa Word told the council she is highly offended by planned events.

"This particular event that we're hosting, I think, sets all women back, particularly in Fairhope," Word said. "… I don't want people coming to visit Fairhope to think this is what we stand for, that we stand for humiliating women and this is what this program does."

When resident Matt Gulisano addressed the council, he asked the councilmen to dress up in drag and go to the event.

"Since this has become an annual event and it's so important to the city of  Fairhope, I think [Councilman] Kevin Boone, I think you would make a wonderful drag queen," said Gulisano. "I think you need to dress up like that, come running up there in your electric vehicle with a sign on the side that says, 'Kevin Boone, Councilmember.' Conyers, man, you could do a Bud commercial when this is all over, and I think you ought to do that. Robinson, I don't know. I think you'd probably be the winner."

Gulisano asked the council to devise a way to say "no" to the event, despite the threat of lawsuits.

"You can say no to anybody you want," he said. "You run this city. They don't run you, you run the city and if you can't say no, then you can't run this city."

Councilman Jack Burrell was not in attendance at Monday's meeting. Still, he previously told 1819 News the city was unable to stop events like the drag brunch planned at a private business because organizers were not doing anything illegal.

"They have constitutional rights," Burrell said. "And you know, we don't want to infringe on their constitutional rights. And the other thing is, a drag show is nothing new. We've had womanless beauty pageants for decades. I mean, I have even seen them at schools at fundraisers. Now, whether those were straight men or gay, I don't know. I don't know if anyone ever even asked if they were straight or gay because it's really none of our business."

The council members did not respond to those who spoke during public comments. No one spoke in support of the pride events at the meeting.

The pride event has gained support from local businesses such as the Fairhope Soap Company, a sponsor, and Bay Breeze Café, hosting the Sunday drag brunch.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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