Sudden cancelation of Drag Bingo in Fort Thomas sparks community discussion

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A Drag Bingo event that was scheduled for Wednesday at the Fort Thomas Farmer’s Market was abruptly canceled Monday. Now, the city’s administrator is clarifying the cancelation while community members and those involved with the event weigh in.

The Facebook page promoting the event, which was open to people 21 and up, sparked more than 200 comments from residents both in favor of the event and against it.

The event was to be part of the city’s Health and Wellness programming that runs during the Farmer’s Market.

Some of the comments against the event on the page were offensive and combative; others were respectful and supportive. But for those who were looking forward to the event, it was a shock to see it suddenly canceled, especially when at first the city made no comment as to why.

Why the cancelation

A day after the cancelation, city officials explained their reasoning for halting the event, and new Fort Thomas City Administrator Matt Kremer shared them with residents who expressed concern during the public comment section of Monday night’s city council meeting.

He said the event did not fit in with the city’s Health and Wellness event policy because it was entertainment-based. Other Health and Wellness events have included goat yoga, blood pressure screenings and other public health education events.

“It got scheduled before I got here, and it was brought to my attention. Yesterday, after discussing with the staff, we decided it didn’t fit,” Kremer said. “Historically it’s not what we’ve done. For that reason, it made sense that they would need to do it in a different time slot and not be sponsored by the city.”

He said the event could go on but that it would need to be done through a rental agreement for use of the Mess Hall in Tower Park, much the same as weddings or other private events. Mess Hall rentals are $100 per hour.

The event was originally slated to provide all proceeds to the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ equality. The City of Fort Thomas adopted in 2020 what is commonly referred to as a ‘fairness ordinance’, an extension of legal protections to LGBTQ people in the city.

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“It is not that you can’t have the event in the city, but we’re being consistent,” Kremer said. “All the other health and wellness events that I’m aware of regarding health and wellness were about educating the public on that. This was an entertainment event.”

Disappointed and concerned

Residents who were looking forward to the event said at the council meeting and online that they suspected different motives when they did not see an explanation. They were concerned that the image it gave of Fort Thomas was that it was not inclusive or welcoming.

Farmer’s Market vendor Annie Brown, who operates Laughing Bees Honey, said she was very disappointed about how things unfolded.

Like many of her neighbors who commented online, she said she was upset it was canceled — and so quickly at that.

“It just to me looked a little suspect,” Brown said. “When the city canceled it they gave no information; it was just canceled. That raised all sorts of red flags there for me. As a vendor at the market, I had heard about this a little while ago. I think it might have been on the city’s website already. Then I saw yesterday’s Facebook post promoting it and even the city’s Facebook page promoted it, but shortly after it was canceled. So to me it sounded like a knee-jerk reaction.”

booths in the Fort Thomas Farmers Market
The city of Fort Thomas operates the Farmers Market and holds Health and Wellness events in the city.

She said she has been in the city for 17 years and has noticed more efforts in recent years for Fort Thomas to embrace being a welcoming community.  

“I’ve felt like Fort Thomas might be moving in the right direction, slowly, but moving in the right direction,” she said. “As a resident and as a vendor at the Fort Thomas Farmers Market, I felt like this was a good move for us.”

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She said she was looking forward to the opportunity to celebrate diversity with the event.

“It was 21 and over, probably because it was Bingo; it’s gambling,” she said. “All the proceeds were going to a good cause. I’ve decided a portion of my sales in June are going to go to that, the Human Rights Campaign, directly.”

Celebrating diversity and moving forward

Ron Padgett was to be the emcee of the event. A Covington resident, he is known for his love of costuming and for hosting many a Halloween event in costume. During the pandemic he turned to his hobby of making costumes from all eras and styles. He said he made one costume a day for 66 days and modeled them in his back yard. He became a minor Instagram sensation.

He and musician Jack Johnson were invited by Chanda Calentine, the city’s economic development director, to be a part of a Health and Wellness event. Calentine said the event originally had other elements that fit into the wellness program criteria but that some things changed, making it more of an entertainment-only event.

Padgett said he came by the city’s invitation, and he wanted to be clear that no one targeted Fort Thomas for any kind of political or social statement.

“All Drag Bingo is, is a grown man in a dress cracking jokes,” he said. ”That’s all it is, and then you play Bingo, and you win stupid prizes. Nothing more.”

He said he was disappointed, yet not surprised by some of the initial comments about the event.

“I’m sorry it had that kind of reaction, but I think the more impressive story here is how many people came out in support,” he said. ”To see the value in an event like this, which is celebrating diversity, is important.”

He said he did not feel the city shut down the event because it was against it.

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“Just for the record, I don’t feel the city is homophobic,” he said. ”I don’t feel like they said, ‘Drag Queens, what?’ and shut everything down. That is not what I think happened at all, and I want to make that very very clear. I do think there is a vocal minority that raised enough hell that it shook people. That happens; I get it.”

With all the divisiveness around the country, and some acts of violence and disruption at events targeting the LGBTQ community, Padgett said it’s even more important to have events like Drag Bingo celebrating diversity and inclusion.

“The reason that I think it is so important is I think of myself growing up in Norwood and feeling incredibly alone and bullied,” he said. ”I had a teacher bullying me. I had children and adults. So I believe responsible adults should provide at least visibility for those gay kids in middle school or high school that feel alone. And I think it does a lot of harm when a community says we don’t like you, we don’t want you, we don’t approve of your lifestyle.”

What happened in response to the cancellation, he said, is what is most valuable.

“My hope is that what these kids are seeing is all these adults standing up and saying we value diversity, and we want this to happen. We want these people in our community. It’s meaningful to us. That is the beauty of what’s happening…If anything can be taken away from it, I hope those kids, and even closeted adults, I hope they see there are people in the community who are supportive and who care and who are glad that we’re part of this world. I think that’s a very important message.”

He said Drag Bingo will return.

“We’re going to move forward, it will still go on. I look forward to seeing what happens next,” he said. ”I’m really looking forward to it.”

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