The Orange County, Va., Board of Supervisors last week released its proposed fiscal year 2024 budget that removes $9,000 in funding it approved last year for the nonprofit Arts Center In Orange in response to plans by the center to host a design class taught by a local drag performer.
According to Equality Virginia, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, members of the Board of Supervisors “have specifically tied the revocation of funding to this planned event,” an action that Equality Virginia calls “harmful and insidious” and that follows attacks on drag shows and drag performers surfacing in many other states.
“Earlier this year, the same Board also voted to revoke a $4,500 matching grant from the Arts Center, which was allocated and approved in the prior year’s budget,” Equality Virginia says in an April 5 statement. “Both of these actions happened after the Arts Center planned an event with a local drag performer who was scheduled to teach a class on makeup, costuming and hairstyling,” the statement says.
News media outlets in the Orange County area have reported that the Arts Center in Orange “indefinitely” postponed the class by the drag performer after opposition by county board members and others first surfaced in January. Nick Morrow, a spokesperson for Equality Virginia, said the Board of Supervisors continued efforts to defund the Arts Center even though the “drag” class has never taken place.
In an April 4 story, the Orange County Review reports that it obtained an email dated Jan. 18 in which Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Johnson expressed agreement with a constituent who requested that the county revoke its funding of the Arts Center because the planned class was to be taught by the drag performer.
The newspaper quoted the individual who wrote to Johnson asking that the funds be revoked as telling Johnson the revocation was needed to “protect children from adults who prey on them with sexually explicit agendas.” The newspaper reported, “Johnson said that he agreed with the individual’s comments and outlined the board’s plans to defund the center through the county’s budget process.”
The Orange County Review also reports that the Orange County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at its April 18 meeting and a vote on the proposed budget was scheduled to take place one week later on April 25.
“As politicians across the country attack drag performers and drag shows, purposely spreading disinformation about what drag actually is, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is hopping on the political bandwagon,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman in the group’s statement.
“It’s disappointing and sad,” Rahaman said. “Drag is not inherently harmful. Drag is not inherently insidious. But yanking funding and suppressing programming because it doesn’t align with their narrow worldview is both harmful and insidious,” she said. “The Board should be ashamed of itself.”
When asked about the board’s decision to revoke funding for the Arts Center in Orange, Board of Supervisors Chair Johnson told the Orange County Review that the board has never attempted to tell any of the groups it funds how they should spend the funds they receive from the county.
But Johnson added, “as with any discretionary spending, the Board can choose to increase, decrease, or eliminate funding to any specific entity.”
The Washington Blade couldn’t immediately determine whether an official with Equality Virginia or representatives of other LGBTQ organizations or activists planned to speak at the April 18 public hearing before the Orange County Board of Supervisors in support of reinstating funding for the Arts Center.
Orange County is located about 30 miles west of Fredericksburg, Va. and about 15 miles south of Culpeper.