ST. GEORGE — Some LGBTQ+ community members in Southern Utah are “very fearful” due to the recent shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado.
As a result, they have requested security for the Dec. 7 screening of the TV show “We’re Here,” filmed earlier this year.
“At the moment, especially after the Colorado shooting, some people don’t feel like St. George is safe,” Southern Utah Pride Director Micah Barrick said. “There’s been a lot of people asking if we’re going to have security at the screening because they’re afraid that type of situation can happen here in St. George.”
According to the Associated Press, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, faces five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury in Saturday night’s attack at Club Q, online court records showed.
But for the upcoming event in St. George, there will be a special early access premier screening at the Sunset Megaplex theater at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., followed by a Q&A with the local cast. Tickets are $10, with proceeds going to Pride of Southern Utah to help bring more queer events and services to the area.
Barrick said they are working with St. George Police chief Kyle Whitehead, the mayor and some city council members to prepare for the event.
“So we are planning on having security there, just to make our community feel safe,” Barrick said.
A vigil was held Sunday night at Vernon Worthen Park for the victims of the Colorado mass shooting. Sunday was also Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international holiday to recognize the transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. The event was created in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith after Rita Hester, a Black transgender woman who was murdered in Allston, Massachusetts.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it would be like to walk out of your house and be targeted just because you identify a certain way,” Mitski Avalōx said. “So I think it’s very important for those who are not familiar with this to understand this is something that’s real and it’s scary.”
Overall, Avalōx said she has felt safe in Washington County. But she feels many people don’t understand that “inflammatory rhetoric” that has been spoken at city council meetings and other public forums puts people in danger.
“When you have that type of language, whether it comes from the news or someone local, they don’t realize that kind of language also puts us in danger,” Avalōx said. “I think it’s very important to know that language could eventually cause harm to someone. Because someone will believe those words and that will justify hurting someone who’s transgender.”
Barrick said businesses can reach out to Pride of Southern Utah for training to help staff be more sensitive to LGBTQ+ community members. For example, the training covers pronoun usage and how to address people and ask how they would like to be addressed.
In an email to St. George News, Dana Henry Martin, a Southern Utah resident, said she knows some residents were concerned about drag shows held in St. George.
“I live in Toquerville and can attest to the importance of bringing attention to this day here in Southern Utah. Trans folks struggle to survive and thrive here,” Martin said. “They’re our neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers, teachers and students. They belong here but often don’t feel a sense of belonging. As you know, belonging is everything. It’s vital to our living and thriving as human beings.”
Martin said much work was still needed to bring the community closer together.
“It’s important to show those in the LGBTQ+ community support — to make those who are LGBTQ+ feel included,” Martin said. “That starts with feeling a sense of safety, which many trans folks here don’t feel.”
Both Martin and Avalox encourage people to get to know some of their LGBTQ+ residents.
“A lot of people who are afraid of us don’t know us, and they start to judge us without even knowing what background we come from and who we are,” Avalōx said. “I think it’s very important for people to get to know us, whether it be volunteering, for example, at Encircle House.”
The Encircle House is a safe donated home that opened in 2020. Its mission is to unite families and the community to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive.
Avalox said she volunteered in the Encircle House parent and youth groups. She said in the groups, many LDS parents of queer children talk about their deep love for their children.
“These are people who, maybe a year ago, were not supportive, but now they really are. And so it’s amazing when you have more understanding,” Avalox said. “You see it from a different perspective. You start to see,’ Oh, wait, maybe they aren’t satanic, or maybe they aren’t evil, or perhaps the person just like me trying to live in a world that is so binary.'”
Avalox also created a new business, Southern Utah Drag Stars. She started the company to help people express themselves as an art form and let the public enjoy the performances. She also wanted to create safe spaces for those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Activities coming up include a photo opportunity with Mrs. Claus in drag on Saturday, Nov. 26, from 2-5 p.m. at the Modern Farm and Artisan Co-op (MōFACo). There will also be a drag show “How the Grinch Stole Drag Show” at Caffe Elevato on Friday, Dec. 2, from 6-8 p.m. The public is invited to wear their best Whoville attire for the evening.
Avalox said her shows would be mostly G-rated, but there might be an 18-year-plus show in the future. She compares the situation with movies; Drag Shows can be rated, so people will know whether or not it’s family-friendly or for a mature audience. She feels the business will succeed as more people support LGBTQ+ members than the “vocal minority.”
According to VAWnet.org, an online resource library on gender-based violence, 46 percent of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were verbally harassed in the previous year because they were trans. Nine percent of respondents were physically attacked in the last year because of being trans. Fifty-three percent of Black respondents reported being sexually assaulted in their lifetime, with 13 percent of those assaults occurring in the previous year alone.
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