MO governor, AG and right-wing Twitter criticize CPS for drag queens at diversity breakfast

Kaycee Adams, Faye King, and Artemis Grey (not pictured) perform Thursday at the Columbia Values Diversity breakfast, peforming the group number "Hold On For One More Day" by Wilson Phillips.
Kaycee Adams, Faye King, and Artemis Grey (not pictured) perform Thursday at the Columbia Values Diversity breakfast, peforming the group number "Hold On For One More Day" by Wilson Phillips.

Columbia Public Schools and the city are facing widespread online backlash after a right-wing Twitter account brought internet attention to a drag performance at a local diversity breakfast with CPS students in attendance.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey sent a letter Friday to the City of Columbia and Columbia Public Schools, decrying both for allowing CPS students to attend what the attorney general called an "adult-themed drag show performance."

The controversy, also prompting statements from Missouri Governor Mike Parson and State Senator Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, stems from a tweet and article by right-wing propaganda site "Libs of TikTok," which has over 1.8 million followers on Twitter and is known for its anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, "the individuals, events and organizations targeted by the account are frequent targets of harassment, threats and violence."

The tweet features a video of a drag performance at the Columbia Values Diversity Celebration, which has been hosted by the City of Columbia since 1994.

“I am committed to ensuring that our school system is educating, not indoctrinating children, and that parents have a say in the process,” Bailey said in his letter to CPS and the city. “Children in our state have a constitutional right to a quality public education because in Missouri, we understand that training the next generation is essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties we cherish. I will use every tool at my disposal to ensure that children throughout the state are safe and receiving the education they deserve."

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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday tweeted, "Parents weren't clearly informed of the contents of the program, and adult performances are not diversity. Columbia Public Schools should focus on educational experiences that prioritize math, reading, writing, science, and history, which parents expect and demand for their kids."

Both Parson and Bailey were not in attendance at the event.

"I have asked for a meeting with the CPS Sup't and members of the CPS Board to voice these concerns, hear from them on the process that led to this series of events, and gather information to determine what next steps need to be taken at the legislative level," State Sen. Caleb Rowden tweeted on Friday.

In a tweet, City of Columbia Councilwoman Andrea Waner said she had received an email from someone saying they hope she sees the inside of a courtroom and a prison cell for "city-sponsored child sexual exploitation."An emailed response from Columbia Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Baumstark noted individuals from Columbia Public Schools were among the more than 1,000+ attendees.

"Attendees are not provided specific details of the performances in advance of the event," Baumstark said in an email to the Tribune. On the City of Columbia's page for the event, it says the celebration features keynote speaker Renee Montgomery and entertainment by NclusionPlus, but it does not specify a drag show.

In a statement, NclusionPlus said takes social feedback, patron well-being and professional conduct seriously.

NclusionPlus said the audience witnessed about 20 minutes of G-rated programming, which included three solo performances with a group number finale, as the performers wore modest costumes, avoided vulgar language and featured no suggestive themes.

"We provided a safe experience of self-expression and creative performance that infringed on no less moral ground than a theatre department in a school would do," NclusionPlus spokesperson Brandon Banks said in a statement. "WE find the concept of censorship on drag shows that follow G-rated protocols, a hyperbolic response and attempt to further ostracize, re-closet and then take our nation backwards socially. LGBTQIA+ people exist. We are valid and don't deserve to be vilified."

Baumstark said it was an event that celebrated the life and teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., and that individuals from the district have attended every year since its inception. She said the district is honored to be a part of coordinating and participating in the student writings portion of the celebration event, which CPS has done for years.

"The event included singing of our National Anthem, an invocation by Columbia faith leaders, a presentation of student writing centered around diversity themes, a discussion of Columbia’s journey toward inclusive excellence by the city’s Mayor Barbara Buffaloe, and the presentation of awards," Baumstark wrote. "Former WNBA super star Renee Montgomery was the keynote speaker, and her speech was sponsored by University of Missouri Athletics. The last portion was a 15 minute dance and singing performance by “NClusion +.”

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According to CPS, there were approximately 30 Columbia Public Schools students in attendance, while other private and parochial schools had students in attendance, too. Of the CPS students in attendance, Baumstark said the district has received two complaints from parents of children who attended the event and that CPS has been in direct communication with those parents about their complaints.

"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 said.

Attorney General Bailey in his letter cited recent legislation passed by the state government, a "new statute to protect school-aged children."

"This statute criminalized providing certain sexual material to a student and became effective in August," Bailey wrote. "Transporting students to a drag show likely runs afoul of this statute.”

Editor Chris Kwiecinski, Photojournalist Madeline Carter and Plains planning editor Gabriela Velasquez contributed.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: MO leaders criticize drag queens at Columbia diversity event