Milton Berle. Flip Wilson. Bugs Bunny.
Indecent, corrupt troublemakers unfit for a morally upright community like Somerset?
Or classic comic geniuses whose on-air shenanigans would actually be considered quite quaint now?
How about, all men known for dressing up in women's clothing for the entertainment value?
Few things have been talked about more in this county over the last couple of weeks than the upcoming "Chill Out and Proud 2019" event, slated for October 5. Somerset's first real "Pride" festival celebrating members of the local LGTBQ community, it has predictably met with resistance from some vocal corners of the religious community.
The reality is that people of different sexual orientations or identities have always been here. In the past, perhaps, people just didn't talk about it. Those issues were swept under the rug, gay people kept their love lives hidden while straight folks felt no such compulsion to stay in the shadows and whispers, and LQBTQ individuals didn't really have a voice in the collective discussion.
Now they do. That's what "Pride" is about. Having an event like this is not "throwing it in anyone's face," as some people seem to feel; it's just about not being afraid to be out in the open anymore. Straight people are proud of who they are and their relationships; gay people want to feel that way too. That's what being part of "the land of the free" is all about.
That said, in cities with different sets of values than Somerset, Pride-related events can get fairly risque. People have probably seen media images of shirtless guys in leather chaps or sexually charged acts purposed to push conventional boundaries, and worry that's what a Pride event is all about.
One size does not fit all, in this case. Based on every bit of information available about "Chill Out and Proud," that's nothing like what these organizers have planned. They've stressed that it will be "family-friendly." We've got a schedule with things like painting and yoga and chili and kids activities. Basically the same as any other event held on the judicial center plaza -- including those held by church groups.
The one real difference -- that night, to go along with the festivities, a drag show is scheduled for Jarfly Brewing Co. A citizen concerned about all this asked the Somerset City Council whether an adult entertainment ordinance license would be needed to have such a thing. And that license costs a lot -- $1,000.
The crux of the issue is this -- do drag performances constitute adult entertainment?
In and of themselves, no, they don't.
"Drag" is not the same as "transgender," which is a frequent topic in the news. While it's a common staple of the LGBTQ community as part of the cultural fabric, it's really about camp -- a form of comedy. Some drag shows can be a little spicier than others, at least in terms of the comic material, but it's all in good fun. It's not about sex acts or exhibitionism and certainly not about nudity -- heaven forbid, no. It's about what the performers have on, not off.
We see "drag" all the time in various ways, played up for the sake of having fun. Berle and Wilson did it in in their TV skits. Bugs Bunny did it to fool Elmer Fudd. The theatre has a grand tradition of putting men in women's roles and vice versa -- including numerous plays that have been staged right here in Pulaski County. Local high schools have even held "opposite sex day" during homecoming week. All different forms of the medium known as "drag." A drag show is its own specific type of performance, but at its essence, it exists for the sake of fun, not titillation.
City officials thankfully realized this. A letter from Somerset City Attorney John Adams released to the Commonwealth Journal this week noted that adult entertainment is prohibited by law at establishments that serve alcohol like Jarfly, but that "performing 'in drag' is not by itself 'adult entertainment,' lewd, obscene, or otherwise a violation" of the policies in place.
The drag show is indoors in a microbrewery, not out on the the plaza in front of the public with the rest of the events. It's not something that involves any acts that would normally be considered sexual in nature. It's not even anything you'd be unfamiliar with if you've ever watched "Looney Tunes," probably.
That's what we at the Commonwealth Journal expect. We're confident this will be an event that's all in good fun, and won't reflect poorly on the Chill Out and Proud festival, the community, or anyone else involved.
If that's not the case, then we'll be as disappointed as anyone, and will point out where things went wrong. But the most likely outcome is an event more in keeping with the values of a tight-knit, small town community like Somerset than, say, the streets of Las Vegas.
In other words, it's something everyone in Somerset should be able to take Pride in.
THE COMMONWEALTH JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD is made up of Michael McCleery, Publisher; Jeff Neal, Editor; Steve Cornelius, Sports Editor; Bill Mardis, Editor Emeritus; Mary Ann Flynn, Advertising; Shirley Randall, Production; and Chris Harris, Staff Writer.