NEWBURYPORT — “Over The Rainbow,” a community dance for high school-aged teens featuring a drag queen performer, is in jeopardy of being canceled after the owners of the venue pulled their support.
A decision Thursday by St. John’s Lodge/Masonic Hall representatives to back out of hosting the Newburyport Youth Services dance May 13 came after Plymouth and Barnstable District state Senate candidate Kari MacRae complained, according to NYS Director Andrea Egmont.
On Friday, the city released a statement saying NYS is working on finding a new location for the dance and that it has not been canceled.
MacRae is running on the GOP ticket against state Rep. Susan Moran of Falmouth. Moran is a Democrat.
The dance, co-sponsored by the North Shore Alliance for LGBTQ+ Youth in Salem, was to feature drag queen performer Miz Wigfall, who according to Egmont, has appeared at public libraries and fundraisers across the country.
Miz Wigfall also hosts the Diamond’s Dine-In Drag Brunch, a event held each Sunday at Gulu-Gulu Cafe in Salem.
Egmont called the dance an “all inclusive” event that would promote unity and acceptance for all in the LGBTQ+ community and further NYS’ mission of supporting all people.
“We are very committed that they feel loved and accepted in this community,” Egmont said.
James Giessler, executive director of the North Shore Alliance for GLBTQ+ Youth, said in a statement that his organization supports NYS and area youths and hopes the event will take place as planned.
“NAGLY is proud to partner with Newburyport Youth Services to provide safe/brave spaces for LGBTQ+ youth," Giessler wrote. "The recent, ill-informed opposition to their planned dance event vividly confirms why such spaces are necessary and is further proof that much work still needs to be done. We are disheartened by the negativity that has been aimed at NYS and this event and are concerned about the potential damage that canceling the event would cause to a vulnerable population of young people.”
In a phone interview Friday, MacRae said Newburyport residents reached out to her about the dance to express their concerns, prompting her to call NYS to learn more. When told that NYS would push on with its dance plans, MacRae called St. John’s Lodge to voice her own concerns.
“I think it’s a good outcome that they didn’t host the event,” she said.
Asked if she was looking to score political points by getting involved with a dance roughly 100 miles away, MacRae adamantly denied it.
“No, I am not,” she said, adding that she is a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community.
MacRae, a Bourne School Committee member, opposes mask mandates, and gender identity and critical race theory discussion in classrooms, according to her campaign website.
MacRae’s social media posts resulted in her being terminated from the Hanover School District, south of Boston.
Her termination letter from Hanover High School on Sept. 29, read to a Cape Cod Times reporter by MacRae, noted “that continuing your employment in light of your social media posts would have a significant negative impact on student learning at HHS.”
Meanwhile, word of the Newburyport dance spread quickly through the city with multiple residents and people outside the city sending emails to Mayor Sean Reardon and other elected officials, asking them to stop the dance from proceeding.
Newburyport resident Laurie Kench said it was inappropriate for the dance to be hosted by a performer geared toward an older audience.
“We don’t want our kids subjected to a guy who goes out and dances for adults,” Kench said.
In a statement, Reardon said the event has been “grossly mischaracterized by a handful of bad faith actors, who are calling it things it is not,” adding that it was not being funded by taxpayers.
“My administration is committed to making Newburyport an inclusive city where all are treated with respect and dignity. I am particularly concerned with looking out for the most vulnerable, including youth and the LGBTQ+ community,” Reardon wrote.
“Newburyport Youth Services does amazing work in reaching youth where they are and making them feel valued and accepted during challenging times in their lives," he added. "The dance they are holding with their partners at the North Shore Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Youth was planned to incorporate age-appropriate representations of LGBTQ culture, and the inclusion of a DJ in drag was something students wanted and were excited about. I support the youth who want to have this dance, and am happy to discuss concerns with community members who are not comfortable with it.”
Praising Reardon’s stance was Councilor at large Ed Cameron, who said he appreciated efforts to find a new venue for the dance.
“It’s concerning that the right wing ‘culture wars’ are coming to Newburyport," Cameron wrote in a statement. "Phony controversy in an attempt to freak people out and marginalize the LGBTQ community is really pathetic. What’s next, banning Mickey Mouse from our public schools? We live in America. Our values include the freedom to be as we are.”
Ward 2 Councilor Jennie Donahue was quick to approve of NYS and NAGLY’s attempt to create a safe environment for the area’s LGBTQ population.
“I support them trying to organize an event that is typical for teenagers such as a dance party where they feel comfortable, accepted and safe and to some degree normal,” Donahue wrote in a statement.
A phone message left with St John’s Lodge was not returned.
Dave Rogers is a reporter with the Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.
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