Six hours after blocking off downtown Southern Pines for the town's annual holiday parade, police returned to the blocks surrounding the Sunrise Theater to prepare for a drag performance show that has generated significant protest and controversy in town and on social media.
The Downtown Divas drag show, which was scheduled for 7 p.m. but did not begin until 7:40 p.m., was scheduled as a fundraiser for Sandhills Pride, the local nonprofit supporting the LGBTQ community. The show originally allowed for children and teenagers to attend, but following angry protests online, the Sunrise and Sandhills Pride announced that only individuals aged 18 and older would be admitted.
A planned drag show in downtown Southern Pines had become a lightning rod on social media ev…
The drag show came just a couple of weeks after a shooting rampage at Club Q in Colorado Springs, which had been scheduled to host a drag brunch the following afternoon in observance of Transgender Remembrance Day. After the attack, Sandhills Pride began discussing its own upcoming drag event at Sunrise Theater.
Security was tight around the theater Saturday afternoon. The town had approved two permits for protests, one for those opposed to the drag show and one for supporters. Opponents gathered and staged their protest at the downtown train station across the street from the theater.
Police erected barricades on the streets around the theater and posted signs saying no weapons were allowed in the designated protest/demonstration area. Uniformed officers had a heavy presence as people began gathering downtown.
Officers from Southern Pines, Pinehurst, Aberdeen and the Moore County Sheriff's Office, numbering more than 35, were on hand to control both protesters and counter protesters, Southern Pines Police Chief Nick Polidori said. They ended up with little to do other than look on.
"I think we were well prepared. We had more than enough resources and personnel here, and we planned for it for about a week and a half just to make sure everybody had a nice safe event, regardless of what their view was," Polidori said. "The Sunrise was protected, they had their own security, but at the same time we were well prepared for anything that could come up."
While protesters outside largely dispersed by 7 p.m. as the Sunrise's doors closed, police remained on site and planned on staying until the show ended and patrons left.
"We're going to be out here for a while," Polidori said. "We accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish leading up to the event."
Part of that security included surveillance from above. Officers were staged on the Sunrise's rooftop to look down at protesters below, and the town's Fire Department flew a drone overhead to give police a view on the scene from the air.
Approximately 50 protesters stood across the street from the Sunrise and organized in a loose prayer circle. Their permit covered a protest from 5 to 7 p.m.
Following a group prayer circle, a number of protesters spent their time reading scripture verses out loud, directing them with a handheld amplifier toward counter protesters. Other protesters held signs with expressions such as, "This is porn, not female impersonators."
Protesters said they were also there to pray for those participating in the show.
David Reynolds, pastor of Middle Cross Baptist church in West End, said that he attended the protest "to stand for morality," saying the Sunrise show was not moral.
Ron Burt, a West End resident, said that he didn’t show up to judge performers or the patrons
“Everyone's got an opinion, and we are just here to spread the word of Jesus Christ," he said. "This is not biblical. I don't judge it, but the only thing that can help is us praying for it."
Lynn Goldhammer, a Southern Pines resident, showed up to protest the Sunrise Theater allowing the show.
"This isn't like the drag shows of yesteryear, where a man would dress up like Cher and belt out 'Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,’” Goldhammer said. “It's nothing about a man impersonating a woman. It’s extreme body — fake body parts — jumping and bumping and grinding and twerking.”
Jan Picerno, wife of Moore County Commissioner Nick Picerno, held a sign protesting the drag show alongside her husband.
"I've lived here for almost 66 years, and I care deeply about the county,” she said. “I have grandchildren and children that live and work and play here, and I don't think that this kind of show belongs inside the town where schools are close by.”
While drag show protesters gathered early, they were eventually outnumbered significantly by counter protesters, a number of whom waved rainbow flags, homemade signs and called out specific individuals who had stoked outrage toward the drag performance on Facebook over the past couple of weeks. Counter protesters chanted out expressions such as "I love you" and "love is love" and "love not hate."
Southern Pines resident Monique Baker was one of many counter protesters, who said she showed up in front of the Sunrise “to support love and inclusion and diversity in our community, and make sure it's always welcome and has a place here.”
"I think love wins over everything," Southern Pines resident Aubrey Gregory said. "I don't see them as evil, I just don't know where that kind of hate comes from for another life."
At one point, performers participating in Saturday's show came out and joined the counter protesters. Naomi Dix, the show’s headliner, told the group that “everyone has the right to protest, whether they are right or they are wrong.”
”It is not our job to change them,” she said. “It is, however, our job to educate them.”
She later led a chorus of counter protesters in shouting “I love you” at the opposition.
This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the evening. Check back for updates.
Whatever floats your boat... I'm not familiar with scripture that addresses cross dressing. Perhaps wearing Punjabis' is cross dressing as well. Religious zealots should clean up their backyards first before casting their condescending verbal stones. To have an elected Commissioner protesting is beyond reproach when they are elected to represent ALL people who live in Moore County and not a gaslighting Lee County resident seen with Nick Picerno. So now voters know that he only represents his own special interests as opposed to the voters and taxpayers who live and reside in Moore County. Elected officials should refrain from trying to force their religious opinions on all of us. Who's next Jewish synagogues?
I really feel sorry for those that insist every American citizen must think exactly the same way. You do not have the right to force your religious beliefs on your fellow citizens. I hope your souls get healed so that you may learn from Christ and love your neighbor as yourself.
Never mentioned - the Club Q perpetrator identified itself as “non-binary”, aka was from the same ilk and had no real stable family life. Strong Christian nuclear families rarely result in sexual immorality, unemployment, criminal behavior, divorce, etc.
How many of the angry supporters were bussed in from Chapel Hill? It was pretty obvious as they all arrived together, late, and clearly have been part of such a rabble before. Their presence was another huge belly flop for the left and an embarrassment for The Pilot and the Town of Southern Pines, which has now earned the title of Southern Berkeley. Might be an idea for their new logo.
Just go ahead and blame it on ANTIFA Kent. It's sad how the right wing sheep-propelled by fear, intolerance, and ignorance-distort scripture to justify their behavior.
Yikes, this piece really centers and gives preference to the voices of one side of the story, no? Two small comments tacked on at the end from pro-drag show voices?
Out and about on Broad Street Saturday afternoon and evening, most people and businesses I spoke to were in support of the show and quite wary of the significant *outside* attention the event had gotten. Let's not be mistaken about which set of views are in the minority in Southern Pines.
I am grateful the evening was peaceful after the heated language, threats, and concerns in the leadup.
Matthew, the reason The Pilot couldn’t print more comments from the very confused, angry supporters was they have to delete every other word. F bombs everywhere but not from the Christians.
A fairly accurate account. But there were easily over 100 opponents present, and they were there long before the loud and vulgar show supporters appeared. It’s no wonder The Pilot doesn’t show the posters from the supporters as they were not exactly G-rated. It must have been a major embarrassment for the town of Southern Pines to have these profane radicals present. The opposition was by comparison quiet and prayerful. Quite a few pastors and young people were among the determined group. The police did a fine job and only had to deal with the shrill show supporters with their encroachment on the barricades and their vulgarity. Southern Pines should expect continued voices of opposition to its support of the radical left, very much out of place and time in conservative Moore County.
Stay in seven lakes Kent. We in Southern Pines don’t care what you think.
Hi Chris. This is called an Opinion section. I pay for its use. If you don’t like my opinions, don’t read them. Funny, the people in SP are always happy to see me when I buy things in the shops there. Especially in the best one, the Christian Book Store.
Hey Kent, you wanna tell your Oath Keeper buddies to step up and take responsibility for the power outage?
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