BILLINGS — After controversy over an upcoming Drag Queen Story Hour at ZooMontana, the zoo's director said Friday that the event will still go on.
“It has been a very trying couple of days for us here at the zoo. At the end of the day, we want to provide space for all," said Jeff Ewelt.
ZooMontana draws visitors from all across Montana and Wyoming and, for Ewelt, it is a space for all. This means the ability for all kinds of groups, from churches to politicians to 406 Pride, to host events on the property.
“In this particular event, the Drag Queen Story Hour, it’s something that happens across the country and actually has rave reviews. It is not a burlesque show. It is literally somebody sitting in a chair reading a book,” said Ewelt.
Ewelt also posted on the ZooMontana Facebook page:
We have heard from many of you in regard to the 406 Pride Drag Queen Story Hour being held at the Zoo later this month. Let me be clear - ZooMontana prides itself in being inclusive of all living beings. 406 Pride is a respected and valued community asset, one we are proud to support and host at ZooMontana. While personal threats and threats of no longer supporting the Zoo are concerning, we will not let unwarranted fear and hate deter our decision to move forward with this harmless and fun reading event that is held throughout the country. At the end of the day, if your personal agenda does not fit this event, we simply ask that you do not come to the Zoo that day. It would be a shame to never allow your children back to the Zoo because of one simple event.
Anita Shadow will be one of two drag queens reading to the children. She says the books being read will be age-appropriate and “not anything that is specifically aimed towards an LGBTQ+ group or anything of that sort. Just something that’s enjoyable.”
A social media post from the zoo was flooded with comments Thursday. Some people vowed to boycott the zoo because of the event.
MTN News talked on Thursday with Jenna McKinney, founder of Montana Family Rights Alliance. She and others feel they are not being understood for their opinions on the event.
“They don’t feel like it’s harmless and now they don’t feel heard or cared about. You know we’re part of this public too, and we don’t feel like this really represents the whole or the majority of our public's desires for the use of this space,” McKinney said.
Ewelt says the zoo hears those concerns, but added that the zoo has also been flooded with calls of support.
“The positivity we’re receiving is outweighing that negativity. That is so inspiring to me. I need to hear that. I have been extremely emotional about this entire topic... One day doesn’t define all the amazing work we are doing here,” Ewelt said.
Ewelt also says the zoo has no plans to cancel the June 22 event.
“I would hope that individuals that are feeling uneasy about the event give themselves as well as their children a chance to experience and be a part of that community,” said Shadow, who asked to be identified by her stage name.
The controversy has already prompted responses from political leaders in Montana. On Friday, U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale voiced his disapproval of the event on social media.
In response, Gary Buchanan, an Independent challenging Rosendale in the November election, gave his support to the zoo, noting "there is no room for this kind of discrimination" expressed by Rosendale.
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