We're Here drag show to proceed in Utah town despite council opposition to filming permits

·7 min read
We're Here drag show to proceed in Utah town despite council opposition to filming permits

A drag performance set to be filmed Friday night in the small Utah town of St. George as part of an upcoming episode of HBO Max's We're Here will proceed despite opposition from local government officials, EW can confirm.

RuPaul's Drag Race alums Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen, and Eureka are expected to participate as planned in the show, which will be featured in the third season of the Emmy-nominated docuseries. The news comes after town officials raised concerns about the drag show filming near public children's spaces, like the St. George Children's Museum and the Town Square Park in the heart of the city.

"Like any show, we have challenges when it comes to production, but the challenges we have faced in St. George reveal the hidden forces that don't want LGBTQ people to be visible, to gather and to celebrate," co-creator Johnnie Ingram — who created the Emmy-nominated series alongside Stephen Warren — tells EW in a statement.

"Tonight's show will go on and is a step in the right direction for the community and we are proud that so many people came out to support us and our drag show," he continued. "We believe it's important to stand up for your rights and for what you believe in and to see the local community stand up for us and their right to exist and celebrate in such a majestic town is inspiring. That's the meaning of We're Here and we hope that our show is just the beginning of many, many more."

The shoot prompted council members to hold "emergency meetings" over permits to shoot in the town square, according to Southern Utah Pride Events Coordinator Morgan Barrick, who tells EW officials were up "in arms about having a drag show where children are able to come, even though it's a family drag show."

A source close to production says roughly 1,400 people RSVP'd to Friday's drag show, which will be featured in an episode chronicling the fallout from an LGBTQ-adjacent incident at school.

We're Here Eureka, Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela
We're Here Eureka, Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela

Greg Endries /HBO 'We're Here' queens Eureka, Bob the Drag Queen, and Shangela.

Councilwoman Michelle Tanner, the only council member to respond to EW's request for comment, denied holding emergency meetings, and maintained that her anti-show stance was not due to the program's LGBTQ content, but rather rooted in "protecting children in an appropriate location," away from a program that has been rated TV-MA (for mature audiences) by TV Parental Guidelines. (All 14 episodes of We're Here season 3 are rated TV-MA for strong language.)

Tanner says she did not formally call meetings to discuss revoking permits for the show but asked for a public hearing to discuss concerns over potential violations of city ordinances. "I conveyed that concern to the city manager. I did speak to other council members one-on-one and discussed concerns as well," explains Tanner, who also expressed dismay at the swiftness with which the permits were issued three days prior to Friday night's show.

A St. George spokesperson tells EW that "the permit process is administrative" and "handled by city staff," so, "if city staff denies a permit, the applicant may appeal the administrative decision to the City Council within five calendar days of the notice of the denial. Otherwise, the City Council is not involved in the permitting process."

Tanner insists "the LGBT was never part of my concern at all," adding, "I told several people I would go to the drag show, other than I don't feel it's appropriate in a children's location."

"I think when you are discussing more sexual related issues, at this point, I think we're seeing a lot of sexualization of children in general, so I don't feel like that's appropriate," she adds, later noting, "I've seen episodes where there are boobs shaken in the face. There's obviously mature content discussed, there are swear words, things like that."

Michelle Tanner
Michelle Tanner

facebook Michelle Tanner posted about 'We're Here' filming permits in St. George, Utah.

Tanner caused concern among St. George's LGBT community, — who, according to local news, showed up in numbers to a council meeting Thursday to voice support for the drag show — when she shared a Facebook post on Thursday that included screen grabs of a letter she wrote to St. George's city manager Adam Lenhard, who did not respond to EW's request for comment.

"You can threaten me and try to discredit me all you want, I will not be silenced. There is a lot of misinformation in the community right now," Tanner wrote. "[The letter] may provide some clarification as to how an HBO, rated TV-MA drag show is being held outside our public children's museum and downtown children's play area/Town Square. Contrary to some of the messages I have been receiving labeling me a 'bigot' etc for requesting that a TV-MA HBO show be held in an appropriate mature venue (not a children's area), I actually support individual rights to live how you want to live. My brother is gay, I have friends who I love dearly who are gay and I have always supported them. Let's not confuse the issues here."

Per local news, a trans resident spoke up at Thursday's council meeting, urging officials to reconsider their opposition. "I understand that for you, being a city council member is a part-time job, but for me, being trans is something I have to deal with every goddamn day," August Carter said. "And I am terrified to stand in front of you and say that because there are people who want to erase people like me from this city, from this state, from this country, but like the HBO show says, we're here. We have always been here. There is no world where you wake up one day and queer people no longer exist."

The Rev. Craig Duke in 'We're Here'
The Rev. Craig Duke in 'We're Here'

Jakes Giles Netter/HBO The Rev. Craig Duke in 'We're Here'

We're Here previously made headlines when a pastor, Craig Duke, was relieved of his duties in 2021 after performing in drag on an episode set in rural Indiana. "You know, the church has always been a fickle place, faith has always been a challenging thing, but when you experience something that was such a high for our family and to have been accepted so widely by those that are either allies or in the LGBTQIA+ community, and then to be so rejected by those within the religious community and beyond, it was painful," he said on The Tamron Hall Show in April.

The We're Here production source tells EW that the show regularly has issues with booking venues for its drag performances in small towns around the country, as the queens visit their regions to perk up the spirits of local residents with drag makeovers that culminate in colorful performances near the end of the episode.

"Especially as Black people [and] as LGBTQIA+ people, we're still fighting for equality, we're fighting discrimination, we're fighting for acceptance and equal treatment for all people," Shangela previously told EW of a season 2 episode that saw the queens visiting the Edmund Pettus Bridge nearly 60 years after civil rights activists marched through the same spot in Selma, Ala. "Standing on that bridge as a Black gay person raised in the South, as someone who'd come to that town to help amplify the voices and find a community of support for the gays there, but also as a person that understood the significance of the moment, it was very powerful."

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