By Emily Wang and Laura Feng
Photo courtesy of Fig City News
On April 14, Newton North hosted a drag show featuring drag performer Missy Steak as part of ToBeGlad Day, North’s celebratory queer awareness event.
Following the show’s announcement, a Facebook post called for a protest against the performance; the protest was held in Newton Centre on April 13. Protesters said that a drag performance was too sexual to be done in a high school, while a larger group of counter-protesters were also present in support of ToBeGlad Day.
ToBeGlad Day features a series of presentations and events organized by North’s Gender and Sexuality Awareness Club (GSA), which has been running at North for over 20 years.
GSA officer and North freshman, Wren Dunkailo-Minehart helped host this year’s ToBeGlad Day and said that its significance to the student body is profound.
“[ToBeGlad Day is] important to queer students because it shows them that there are more people like them, especially if they’re closeted,” they said. “It is also important to cisgender heterosexual students to bring awareness about this and to help combat queerphobia.”
However, North parent Henry Barbaro, an April 13th protester, said that the event would be inappropriate for high-schoolers.
“I just think it’s not age-appropriate, you know, it is adult entertainment,” he said. “Do other things, more age-appropriate, less sexual.”
Barbaro said that the performance required parents to make uncomfortable decisions.
“If it were up to me, I would say, ‘Don’t do this event,’” he said in an interview with NBC10 Boston. “This performance is really forcing the hand of parents to either do this draconian prohibition or say to their kids, ‘Alright, you can go,’ and hope for the best.”
Protestor Svetlana Shaknovich said she feels that there are more important things for students to spend time on in school than watching a drag performance.
“I don’t think drag shows should be demonstrated at the school,” she said to NBC10 Boston. “There are places for that and school is a place for more useful subjects, like physics, math and history.”
South GSA faculty advisor and history teacher Jenni Bement said that drag is often misconstrued as something dangerous and inappropriate.
“The fear among people that don’t understand drag is that drag is inherently inappropriate, or inherently scandalous in some way, and that’s not true,” Bement said. “That’s a misconception, which is why people run with that, like, oh, this isn’t appropriate for school-age kids.”
Meanwhile, Steak said that drag has existed in different forms throughout history, though it has often been misunderstood.
“There’s Robin Williams and Mrs. Doubtfire. It’s gone back since Shakespeare,” she said. “I wish that people would just confront what they’re really angry about because it seems a little baseless.”
After watching the performance, North sophomore Canina Wang said the assumptions made during the protests were erroneous.
“It was definitely not anything like what people at the protest thought it was going to be like,” she said. “She just came and she sang a song and she danced. I thought it was pretty cool.”
In response to the Newton Centre protest, more than 100 Newton residents and community members gathered to show their support for the drag show.
North Principal Henry Turner said he was impressed with the turnout.
“What was really amazing about the day was the range of students who participated,” he said. “The counter-protest was chock full of people from different backgrounds who support the idea of bringing in an array of different ideas into our school.”
Despite the resulting conflict, Steak said she feels that the community handled it well.
“I felt safe. I felt supported. I’ve met with lots of the staff and faculty who seemed like they really were grateful I was there,” she said. “I’m very grateful for what Newton did.”
Bement said that throughout the controversy, North was not only supportive of the performer, but also of Newton’s students.
“I’m sure that it was very empowering for LGBT+ students,” Bement said. “I think [that keeping the performance] was the right thing to do. We can’t let prejudiced people dictate school event policy.”