Despite opposition, Bedford drag show set to go ahead, organizer says


A drag show scheduled for July 9 in Bedford, Pennsylvania has drawn objections from some locals. But organizers said the show would go ahead, with additional safety precautions.

Wade Arbors

Wade Bowers as Christian Diane

“The New BROADway Divine” will be presented at the Off Pitt Street Theater in downtown Bedford. The show, featuring several drag queens, is presented by the Bedford Arts Cooperative. It was organized by the Cooperative’s program manager, Dawn Ziviello, who also runs Off Pitt Street.

A few days after the announcement of the show – which takes place in the small basement of Off Pitt Street – Ziviello said she started receiving texts and voicemails from around two dozen residents of the region, most of whom opposed it on religious grounds.

“It’s constant. They are constantly texting me,” she said. The back-and-forth messages, she said, now number in the hundreds.

Ziviello said she expected some pushback for hosting a drag show in the rural county seat, which has a population of just under 3,000.

“I know this city. I have been here for 20 years. It’s very scary of something different,” she said. “I knew this was coming. I just didn’t think it was going to get this big.

Several area churches or their pastors posted their opposition to the event on their Facebook pages. Some posts simply asked people to pray for the show.

Other messages encouraged a more proactive response. In a post on his personal Facebook page, Clifford Swankler, pastor of Liberty Independent Baptist Church in nearby Everett, wrote, “Christians must stand up against this kind of perversion. He asked people to contact the Cooperative to request the cancellation of the show.

“I mean, from the very beginning of the Bible, God created them male and female, and there has to be a distinction between male and female, so we’re not supposed to blur the lines,” Swankler said in an interview. .

Much of the opposition came from smaller evangelical Christian churches like Swankler’s. He said his church had less than 100 members. Recent church activities listed on its Facebook page included a Bible study titled “Overcoming Persecution.”

Swankler said he doesn’t plan on protesting at the drag show itself. But, he added, “that could change.”

Drag, he said, is “something that sets a very bad precedent for our community, our city. I think you can see it’s a decline in morality.

The show will go on, now with security

Ziviello said some messages she received about the drag show were threatening.

A Facebook post from a local resident read, “Go Bedford County Patriots! RAISING YOUR VOICES AGAINST THIS DRAG SHOW!!!!!”

Posts like that, she said, make her think back to August 2020, when dozens of armed white vigilantes gathered in Bedford’s town square after a local white resident shot a group of Black Lives Matter protesters marching in the area. The incidents made national news; the more serious charges against the local resident were later dropped.

The show is the Bedford Arts Cooperative’s first drag production. It is produced in conjunction with the Off Pitt Street Theater in Ziviello, whose shows include everything from Shakespeare to Christmas plays.

Among the drag queens appearing on the show is Wade Bowers, 64, of Cumberland, Maryland, who plays Christian Diane – lip-synching to “oldies,” he said, by the likes of Whitney Houston, Stevie Nicks and Bette Midler.

The divine new BROADway

The online promo for “The New BROADway Divine”

Bowers argued with critics of the July 9 show on social media and via text.

“Why risk your life trying something like this in a small town like Bedford? » read a text. “Don’t you remember what happened when BLM came along?” The post ended with emoticons of two pairs of praying hands.

“It’s like they didn’t expect us to hit back,” Bowers said. “I found out – I’ve been through enough in the past – you don’t back down.”

Bowers said he’s been doing drag shows for 40 years, and he’s slightly surprised there are still people against it.

“I thought people were a little more, you know, with that nowadays,” he said.

Bowers believes the opposition will attract more supporters to the show than they otherwise would have found.

Other star performers include Alesha Dickson, from Johnstown, and Mary Jane LeFae and Tyred Banks, both from Cumberland, Maryland.

In Pittsburgh, nightclubs and other venues host drag shows year-round, with seemingly little recoil. But like in other cities, there have been threats against Drag Queen Story Hours. In 2019, one such social media threat led the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to cancel all of these events.

Ziviello has no intention of canceling. “The New BROADway Divine,” she said, serves a social purpose in a rural place like Bedford.

“There is a need because there are seriously marginalized populations in this community, and that’s why I’m here,” she said. “They need a place where they can be themselves and where they can feel respected and loved, and that’s who I am.”

She plans to engage security for the July 9 event and brief police on some of the messages she received.

And she pointed out that most of the messages she received about the show were positive.

“Brave move to bring this to Bedford,” a supporter wrote on the arts co-op’s Facebook page. “It’s not exactly a progressive community as you probably know. Very admirable and I hope everyone is safe.

Ziviello said she got calls from all over the country because of the show, and even some donations.

“I got a phone call from a lady. There was a voicemail and she said, ‘I just need to know where to send the check,'” Ziviello said with a laugh. “It was really cute. It was really nice.”


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