Albert Lea Pride drag show draws controversy after venue pulls out

Tensions are rising over Albert Lea's second-ever Pride Festival after a local golf course pulled out of hosting a drag show as part of the event.

Wedgewood Cove was set to host this year's drag show after some residents complained about the 2023 show being held at the local American Legion. Yet the golf course canceled late last week after a nearly yearlong reservation, citing concerns over hosting the event, according to Pride organizers.

Wedgewood Cove officials did not respond to several interview requests Wednesday.

The drag show found another venue at the Freeborn County Historical Museum, and it will take place as planned during the Pride Festival on June 15. Holly Babcock, director of the city's convention and visitors bureau and one of the main organizers, describe the venue change as a minor setback easily fixed.

But the issue has caused some residents to speak out against Wedgewood Cove's management.

"In today's day and time, it's not OK to marginalize people or to pick and choose who you will or won't serve," Sherri Rasmussen said.

An Albert Lea City Council member, Rasmussen is part of the city's LGBTQ community and said she cried when she heard about Wedgewood Cove's decision. Rasmussen vowed on social media Wednesday not to spend any more money at Wedgewood Cove, or at owner Jerry Vogt's other business, Mrs. Gerry's Kitchen, a food manufacturer.

Rasmussen said in a phone interview that she posted only as herself and wasn't representing the city with her views, but felt it was important to speak up.

"If businesses don't stand behind us then I really feel like we shouldn't stand behind them," she said. "If my money's not good for them on that day, then my money's not good for them on any other day either."

Albert Lea is the latest in a number of Minnesota communities struggling with LGBTQ issues. Grand Rapids is planning its first Pride parade this year, while competing organizers are putting together a "straight pride" parade on the same day. Owatonna Mayor Thomas Kuntz last year made amends with local Pride organizers and vowed to learn more about LGBTQ issues after comments he made on social media about a planned drag show drew scrutiny.

Babcock said she prefers not to give attention to any negativity surrounding Albert Lea's Pride Festival, saying it only emboldens would-be detractors while distracting from the event's message of acceptance. She and Bob Furland, Albert Lea's recreation manager, launched Pride last year as part of a wave of new events showcasing the community's growing diversity.

Babcock said she hopes residents will instead focus on this year's expanded events at Pride, which will include more food vendors, live music and "Pawject Runway," a pet-oriented fashion show residents can participate in whose proceeds will go to the Freeborn County Humane Society.

"With any kind of change or shift in a community's culture, there are a lot of really positive, beautiful things to come out of it," she said.