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Protesters Gather After Church Hosts ‘Pride Prom’ Event

Local Church Faces Backlash Over Drag Event

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Protests arose in Sherman, Texas after a local church hosted a drag event. The First United Methodist Church played host to the May 13 event called “Pride Prom,” which was later moved from nearby Pecan Grove Park.

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Organized by Grayson County Pride, the event promised to include “open mic karaoke” and a family-friendly drag show. The church prides itself on being inclusive, claiming to welcome “non-conformists and traditionalists, those recovering from addictions, those still battling addictions, and those whose challenges take other forms.”

Details around the event prompted a response from local activist group Protect Texas Kids, which posted to Twitter calling for a protest against the “kid-friendly” event. The virtual flyer included slogans such as “Drag shows are NEVER for kids,” with an updated version noting the event’s change of venue to First United Methodist.

The group posted photos and videos taken outside the church showing kids entering, as well as footage of drag queens and an attendee wearing a furry costume.

Counter-protestors also turned up, including individuals affiliated with Catholic advocacy group The New Columbia Movement, who displayed a flag stating, “DEFEND PURITY, REJECT PERVERSION” while holding a rosary. Eyewitnesses reported police escorting drag performers and furry attendees around the church, which further angered some attendees inside protesting the event with biblically based messages on their signs.

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Sherman is not the only location experiencing controversy around LGBTQ+ events. Drag Queen Story Hours at libraries around the country continue to draw criticism and protesters, many of whom argue that materials viewed as inappropriate for children are being promoted. Conservative reaction to what they see as the “corruption” of children is not just limited to drag events, as more individuals find themselves in political and social conflict in the US.

The decision of First United Methodist to host Pride Prom highlights the growing inclusivity within religious organizations. Rainbow-colored doors have become a symbol of churches, synagogues and Islamic community centers taking a new approach to embracing a culture that has frequently met staunch resistance from religious communities, even leading to questions of condemnation and condemnation to Hell. This move toward a broader embrace of minorities signals a change in the composition of congregants, as younger generations seek a more diverse religious experience.

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However, despite positive steps forward at some organizations, backlash from groups like Protect Texas Kids and The New Columbia Movement exemplify a growing fear among conservatives of the liberalization of American values. The fear centers on the idea that certain lifestyles are being promoted as safe or accepted in a wider societal sense, and that individuals are no longer able to criticize actions like those seen at Pride Prom.

Liberalization is not a new attack on the conservative base, but the delegitimization of Christianity’s foundational beliefs in America. The event held at First United Methodist suggests an institutional shift in the power dynamics of Christianity.

Right-leaning individuals, particularly white Christians, are pushing back on the shift and the suspicion that somehow traditional values are being lost. Culture wars have always been tenacious, but perhaps now more than ever before, they are seen as the last hope of preventing an erosion of values and way of life.

Counter-demonstrations against events like Pride Prom provide a way for the conservative movement to remind themselves and others of traditional American or Christian values, as well as spur political action. By rejecting a certain lifestyle publicly and vocally, conservatives can underscore their opposition and potentially advocate for change in a way that is meaningful to them.

The conservative anxiety surrounding these events and the pushback by conservative groups is understandable. Many in the US are uncomfortable with the idea of “redefinition of society” that they believe is happening across the nation, and they are unsure how to engage this transformation. They feel that their way of life is under attack, and are uncertain how best to preserve it in the face of social, political, and demographic change.

The First United Methodist Church in Sherman is a part of a larger pattern of political and social defiance across the US, with growing numbers of progressive groups that are unapologetic about their commitment to diversity and inclusivity. These organizations prove that the fear of change that fuels retaliation by conservative groups is unfounded, and that the embrace of non-traditional communities such as the LGBTQ+ community is ultimately a win-win for society.

The national conversation around Pride Prom offers an opportunity to consider ways in which diverse groups can coexist productively, even when they differ on significant questions of belief, ideology, lifestyle, or identity. Public and private organizations alike can learn from these events and explore ways to welcome diversity without sacrificing moral, ethical, or religious convictions.

The drag event at First United Methodist Church in Sherman is a testament to widespread change infiltrating the religious community, and one that will be on the rise in the coming years. No matter where it occurs, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations should be seen as an opportunity to foster dialogue and reflection, so as to bridge the gap between groups that hold radically different opinions.

The US is at a crossroads where we can either emphasize divisions or we can look for ways to find common ground. Conservatives will only be fully effective in building a better America if they are open to engaging in thoughtful dialogue and in resisting the urge to retreat to cultural in-fighting.

Going forward, houses of worship must play a critical role in initiating greater tolerance and understanding. The message of love and kindness that underpins the teachings of most religions can be effective in bringing together diverse audiences, provided that everyone is willing to put in the effort to achieve greater unity. Thus, it will be critical for religious institutions to stand up against hate and bigotry, as well as to provide opportunities for education and social rejuvenation amongst all groups.

In the end, the message is that events like Pride Prom may be momentous for different reasons across individuals and groups, but like all other movements, they should be celebrated and protected precisely because they are opportunities for people to come together and share in their vision for a better world.

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