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Drag performers in Columbia push back against 'fear mongering' by Missouri Republicans
JAN 23, 2023
Diversity breakfast entertainment was ‘G-rated, family-friendly,’ organizer says as GOP accuses city leaders of exposing children to ‘explicit sexual material’
A drag performance last week at a diversity event attended by Columbia middle schoolers was “high-brow and innocent,” not the salacious sexual display alleged by Missouri Republicans, the marketing director for the group behind the performance said Sunday.
annual Columbia Values Diversity Breakfast, timed to be near the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, three members of the drag performance group Nclusion Plus put on a musical show as part of the festivities.
The annual breakfast draws hundreds of attendees of various ages, and this year’s audience included about 30 middle-school aged students from Columbia Public Schools.
“The approach we took to songs, when we told the entertainers, was to offer something positive, uplifting, a song fit for a general family audience,” Brandon Banks, director of marketing for Nclusion Plus, said in an interview with The Independent.
Hours after the event, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tweeted that his office was “inundated with calls & emails re: grade school kids being forced to sit through a drag show” at the breakfast.
In his tweet, Rowden included a link to a Substack blog post by Libs of TikTok — which primarily shares content by LGBTQ creators and programs to a far-right audience. Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichikposted video footage of Thursday’s drag performances on her blog and Twitter.
The subjects of previous Libs of Tik Tok’s tweets have been overwhelmed with violent threats following the account’s posts.
Gov. Mike Parson added to the criticism on Friday, when his official Twitter account stated he was “deeply concerned about reports that Columbia middle school students were subjected to adult performers during what is historically a MLK Day celebration. This is unacceptable.”
And by Friday afternoon, Attorney General Andrew Bailey had sent letters to the Columbia Public Schools and Columbia city officials accusing them of violating laws protecting children from sexually explicit material.
In the nearly identical letters, Bailey accused district Superintendent Brian Yearwood and city Mayor Barbara Buffaloe of working “actively to undermine Missouri’s laws by deliberately subjecting a group of middle-school students to an adult-themed drag show performance.”
Bailey suggested that the performance violated a law requiring parents to be notified of the content of human sexuality education and to be given a chance to opt-out of that part of the curriculum. He also cited a new criminal statute making it class A misdemeanor to give “explicit sexual material” to a student.
The law defines the prohibited materials as depicting “human masturbation, deviate sexual intercourse (non-vaginal sexual relations), sexual intercourse, direct physical stimulation of genitals, sadomasochistic abuse, or emphasizing the depiction of postpubertal human genitals…”
Nothing even faintly resembling the prohibited explicit material was presented, Banks said.
“There was nothing sexual, nothing of any kind that this performance conveyed,” he said. “This was a completely G-rated, family-friendly, uplighting, motivational, positive experience.”
The conservative backlash, Banks said, ignores the content of the performance to make political points.
“It feels like we are being treated as the chum in the water for the sharks to feed on,” Banks said. “It is just fear-mongering at the end of the day and it feels like it is taking our community backwards.”
Each of the Nclusion Plus performers lip-synched a performance to a song – ‘Don’t call me baby’, recorded in 2008 by Kreesha Turner; “This Is My Life,” recorded in 1968 by Shirley Bassey; and Collect my love, a 2015 recording by Alex Newell – and the trio performed together on the finale, “Hold on (for one more day),” a 1990 song by Wilson Phillips.
In an interview Monday, Rowden said he didn’t understand what Banks means by a “G-rated” performance.
“That’s a distinction without a difference and it’s people looking for ways to justify things that they have no business trying to justify,” Rowden said.
The problem, Rowden said, was that the Columbia Public Schools permission slips sent to parents asking that students be allowed to attend did not specifically say that a drag performance was part of the program.
Rowden said he had meetings scheduled with district officials later this week.
“If a parent sent their child to a diversity event without knowing that there was going to be a drag show there, I think there was a failure of communication somewhere,” Rowden said. “So, I’d like to figure out where that was.”
District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark, in a statement Friday, said “attendees are not provided specific details of the performances in advance of the event.”
Columbia Values Diversity Celebration advertised the event online as including “entertainment by Nclusion+,” which on its own website says it promotes “LGBTQIA+ events, media, and education.”
The district received complaints from two parents who sent a child to the event, Baumstark wrote in the district statement, and “also received numerous communications from parents who did NOT have students at the event, individuals who do NOT have children enrolled in CPS, and individuals who do NOT reside in our community.”
In a letter to Parson that was distributed to the district’s parents on Sunday, Yearwood pushed back against Bailey’s assertion that the performance violated any laws governing sex education or what materials can be provided to students.
“Any characterization of the ‘Columbia Values Diversity’ Breakfast as ‘child endangerment’ or having a ‘sexual nature’ or violating state law is categorically false,” Yearwood wrote. “Although CPS was unaware what the performance by NClusion+ would entail, their program was not an ‘adult’ performance. This type of misrepresentation is harmful to our students, our staff, and our community.”
The performers at Nclusion Plus did nothing more risque than might be seen in a high school theatrical performance, Banks said. The only reason it has come under attack, he said, was from people who don’t want children to know that gay people exist.
“If we have to be called into war, so to speak, that is just how we have to respond, to do something to defend our community when they need us,” Banks said. “But at the end of the day, we hope this is a blip on the radar and no harm was truly done.”
Two bills seek to add venues that exhibit drag performances to the list of establishments defined as “sexually oriented businesses.”
One of these bills, introduced by freshman Rep. Mazzie Boyd, R-Hamilton, will receive a public hearing Tuesday in the House’s General Laws Committee.
The House added her bill — and a slew of bills targeting transgender Missourians — to the committee’s agenda Monday.
The label of “sexually oriented business,” which currently includes establishments like strip clubs and adult boutiques, would limit the time and audience for venues presenting drag performances.
The establishments could only be open until midnight and no minors could enter. If included in the definition of sexually oriented business, drag venues would also be barred from serving alcohol.
Parents blame CPS for transparency gap after students watch drag show at city event
JAN 23, 2023
COLUMBIA − The city of Columbia held its 2023 Columbia Values Diversity Celebration on Thursday morning. This event has been part of Columbia history since its first celebration in 1994, with a provided breakfast.
Tickets for admission to the celebration were sold out, according to the city of Columbia's website, with more than 1,000 people who attended the event.
The website also said a speech would be made by keynote speaker Renee Montgomery, which was sponsored by Mizzou Athletics, and that there would be entertainment provided by Nclusion+.
That entertainment was a drag show. WE Project posted a video of one of the performances.
In the group of attendees were Columbia Public Schools middle schoolers on a field trip.
After the celebration, some parents posted comments within a Facebook group, "CoMo Citizens for CPS Accountability and
Transparency," explaining they were not informed their child would be watching a drag show.
CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark told KOMU 8 that attendees are "not provided specific details of the performances in advance to the event."
Approximately 30 CPS students attended the event, Baumstark said. Students from private and parochial schools also attended.
She said so far, the district has received two complaints from parents of children who attended the event, and that the district is communicating with those parents.
But she said the district has seen multiple complaints from parents who did not have students at the event.
"The district has also received numerous communications from parents who did NOT have students at the event, individuals who do NOT have children enrolled in CPS, and individuals who do NOT reside in our community," Baumstark wrote to KOMU 8.
Gov. Mike Parson posted to his official Twitter and said he was "deeply concerned" about the reports.
Attorney General Andrew Bailey said he has sent a letter to CPS Superintendent Brian Yearwood and Columbia Mayor Barbara Buffaloe, saying the performance has "no place in the public educational system."
Bailey claims the district and city "actively undermined Missouri's laws by deliberately subjecting a group of middle school children to an adult-themed drag show performance."
Bailey also accused the district of "intentionally concealing the sexual nature of the presentation to which they invited middle-schoolers and they they actively discouraged parents from attending."
Sen. Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) posted on his official Twitter account and said he received calls and emails to his office from CPS parents voicing their concerns.
Following the event, Buffaloe posted a thread to her official Twitter account, thanking the group who planned it, accompanied with a photo of herself with drag queens who performed.
KOMU 8 News has reached out to Buffaloe and Rowden for comment but has not received a response.
KOMU 8 is a sponsor of the Columbia Values Diversity Celebration.
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Despite attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights, one local group is hosting 'family-friendly' events to show Missourians they're not alone
DEC 22, 2022
It’s a Friday night in the Arts District. Despite the biting November cold, there’s a warmth in how the loud music floods Serendipity Salon and Gallery.
The space is filled with people excited to play bingo in support of Douglass High School. Drag performers, Artemis Grey and Faye King, take turns lip-syncing to catchy songs and heartfelt ballads. And between performances, they call out numbers until someone gets a bingo.
Star Mezzanotte was one of the night’s winners.
“I am a bingo fanatic,” they said. “I love bingo. I play it as often as they can. So yeah, I always love when I get to win.”
Mezzanotte is also a member of NClusion Plus, a lifestyle production company in Mid-Missouri working to create space for the queer community to “feel at home.” The group is also responsible for putting together the Drag Bingo night on November 18, 2022.
Beyond the chance to win and support a good cause – this event has another purpose - bringing drag into new spaces.
“I always think it's good for people to be able to experience different forms of self-expression, and, you know, things like that, especially people who haven't ever attended a drag show before to maybe get out of their comfort zone a little bit,” Mezzanotte said.
Drag shows hold a cultural meaning within queer history and liberation. And, in addition to providing a place for the queer community to find each other, drag shows offer a space for exploration outside of the gender binary — which is what attracts Faye King, a nonbinary performer.
“It allows me to express myself in different ways,” she said. “It allows me to try new things and have an audience and see what kinds of things I like and what kind of things I don't like, as far as expression goes. And it hopefully allows them to feel the same way that I feel when I'm on stage too.”
For Faye, Nclusion Plus family-friendly events are special because they introduce families and younger audiences to drag since many drag shows are held in bars and require people to be 21 or older.
“Being under those ages, it's a sort of vulnerable time in your life, and having representation matters so much,” King said. “And to know that they're not alone, if they are questioning things like based in like how society kind of tells them to act a certain way, dress a certain way, you can't be this you can be that these queer spaces kind of do allow us to create those moments where we can show that it's okay.”
Spaces free from homophobia and transphobia are becoming harder to find despite still being vital to the community. The American Psychological Association recently found that 72% of the LGBTQIA+ community reported feeling like their rights were under attack.
While environments like this are important across the world, it’s significant that these spaces are in Missouri. It’s one of the 22 states that’s categorized as “high priority to achieve basic equality” by the Human Rights Campaign in 2021.
So, in a state that still has a long way to go for LGBTQIA+ equality, having a space that is open to all can be an important resource. Chris Lehman, one of the co-owners of Nclusion Plus, explained that creating this space to celebrate different types of expression is one of their core purposes.
“We're doing this as a passion project for us,” he said. “So, it's something that we enjoy setting everything up and we enjoy actually facilitating the events and running the events. We're still reaching out and getting to impact different people at different events.”
And for Faye King – back at the bingo night - these spaces are especially important right now as anti-LQBTQIA+ policies and legal battles are putting stress on the community. Policies that aim to prevent transgender students from playing sports, aim to prevent gender-affirming care, and have banned books that have LGBTQIA+ representation.
“The queer community has always been under attack,” King said. “But right now, it's such a sensitive time in our country, that I just, I just think it's really important to just have people know that we're here and we're not going anywhere.”
At the end of the night, when the bingo cards are cleared away, Nclusion Plus raised about $250 for Douglass High School AND created an accessible space for people of all ages to enjoy drag performance, be themselves or explore what that might be.
"Right now, it's such a sensitive time in our country. I just think it's really important to just have people know that we're here and we're not going anywhere."
Working at KMOS-TV Earn Telly Awards
AUG 26, 2022
WARRENSBURG, MO – KMOS-TV, the PBS station licensed to the University of Central Missouri, recently received six Telly Awards honoring excellence in local television programming. Three of these awards were given to KMOS student producers competing against established producers in professional categories: Cassidy Lesire, sophomore, created a short documentary about one company’s inclusive message and accomplishments; Paris Norvell, junior, helped viewers learn about the state of online threats from a cyber security engineer protecting a large school district; and Tim Oar, senior, created a touching profile of a thriving community of musicians and historians. All of these productions are available online.
“UCM students employed at KMOS-TV gain experience in all aspects of the operation, and they enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate their talents and contribute to the station’s success,” said General Manager Josh Tomlinson. "The fact that these students were honored in categories alongside professionals from organizations like CBS Viacom, The Olympic Channel and Al Jazeera TV is a perfect example of how the talent of the students, the quality of their UCM education and the opportunity provided by KMOS-TV come together to provide an experience like no other."
Each of these UCM students majors in Digital Media Production, and over the summer two of them continued their education through internships: Norvell with public radio station KCUR in Kansas City, and Lesire with Disney World Florida. After graduating in May, Oar worked with the KMOS production staff on the latest season of the KMOS flagship series “Making.” He currently teaches Dital Media Communications at State Fair Community College in Sedalia.
Two other KMOS projects honored with Telly Awards were the documentary “Mule Tracks: UCM After 150 Years,” and “The Story of Us: A KMOS American Portrait Special.” “Mule Tracks” received a Bronze Winner in Television – History and a Bronze Winner in Television – Writing. This documentary explored the founding and continuing history of UCM. “The Story of Us” also received Bronze Telly awards in the Categories of Television – Diversity and Inclusion for its role in a national collaboration featuring stories of individuals living with disabilities.
More About the Three Student Projects Honored
“Giving Me Life: Nclusion Plus” is a Bronze Winner in the category Online General – Event. Produced by Cassidy Lesire (sophomore, Digital Media Production major), this is a short documentary about the positive messages and accomplishments of a company that specializes in pop-up entertainment events. It features the company founders, as well as the queens who put on the fabulous shows. Some of the other honorees in this category are KHOU CBS Houston, City of Murfreesboro, Tennessee and The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
“Zero Day Threat” is a Bronze Winner in Online – Information. Produced by Paris Norvell (junior, DMP major), this short documentary features Evan Nichols, an information security engineer for one of the largest school districts in the state of Kansas discussing what cyber security is and examples of how it takes place in daily life. Some of the other honorees in this category are Al Jazeera Digital, InvestigateTV and ViacomCBS.
“The Schoolhouse Jammers” is a Silver Winner in Online – Documentary, produced by Tim Oar (senior, DMP major). Since 2003 the Johnson County Historical Society has hosted musical jam sessions which have grown into a thriving community of musicians from multiple backgrounds. Some of the other honorees in this category are The Weather Channel Digital, PBS SoCal and The Olympic Channel.
KMOS is a PBS member television station licensed to the University of Central Missouri. Since 1979 we have broadcast high-quality engaging, educational and entertaining programs to central Missouri. From one original channel broadcast 18 hours a day to four channels broadcast 24/7, KMOS is supported in the community through individual memberships and corporate support, by UCM as well as underlying support from all viewers.
The University of Central Missouri transforms students into lifelong learners, dedicated to service, with the knowledge, skills and confidence to succeed and lead in the region, state, nation and world. Our 150-acre main campus is located in Warrensburg, with our extended campus, UCM-Lee’s Summit, located at the Missouri Innovation Campus in Lee’s Summit, Mo. UCM offers 150 programs of baccalaureate and master’s degree study with outstanding, experienced faculty, and opportunity for study around the world.
About the Telly Awards
The Telly Awards was originally founded in 1979 to honor excellence in local, regional and cable television commercials, but added with non-broadcast video and television programming added soon after. The Telly Awards annually showcases the best work created within television and across video, for all screens. Receiving over 12,000 entries from all 50 states and five continents, Telly Award winners represent work from some of the most respected advertising agencies, television stations, production companies and publishers from around the world.
University of Central Missouri student producers at KMOS-TV who were honored with PBS Telly Awards are, from left, Tim Oar, Cassidy Lesire, and Paris Norvell.
Meet Anthony Plogger
JUL 18, 2022
Today we’d like to introduce you to Anthony Plogger.
Hi Anthony, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Outside of Nclusion Plus, I am an educator. I am a Middle School Social Studies teacher. I love that by day, I am educating young minds about where our history has been and how we got to where we are today.
With Nclusion Plus, I am not only a Co-Founder of Nclusion Plus but also the Director of Club Content. Through my role in Nclusion I book entertainers, create the shows, find new and recurring locations and so much more. I am proud of what I do because I can provide safe spaces for our entertainers.
I think being an educator and event planner really hones in on my skills and allows me to do two things I love and enjoy doing as a professional, an educator, and a member of the queer community.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Like any business, it has had its ups and downs. We have experienced successes and failures which is part of every journey.
I would say our successes have made us grateful for the journey and opportunities we have been provided while our failures have allowed us to grow and become abetter organization for our LGBTQIA+ communities.
The struggles have varied, but like every business, we have persevered as a group to ensure we are providing the best and safest entertainment for our customers.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
Nclusion Plus was created after our local drag bar, Yin Yang Nightclub closed due to COVID-19.
We were regulars of the club and it really took a personal toll on our ability to have a safe space where we could come together, be safe and have fun as a community.
We contacted a few entertainers we knew and wanted to have a pop-up drag show which we hosted on Facebook Live (this was in the heart of the pandemic where we had to follow strict COVID protocols.
After receiving 15,000 views on our first video, we worked as a group of friends (now business partners) to bring pop-up LGBTQIA+ entertainment such as drag, burlesque, weddings, and more to areas in need.
What started in a 1000 square foot office space and a digital camera has grown to 200+ entertainers, close to 50 pop-up locations, and entertainment that has popped up across the state in locations that have never had access to drag before.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Please check out where Nclusion Plus is popping up next by catching our social media at Nclusion Plus on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube.
We hope to see you at an upcoming event where you are safe and valued as a member of the queer community or an ally.