Two events in June — a drag show highlighting Pride month and a Juneteenth celebration promoting racial justice — could result in the nonprofit June Bug Center losing funding from the Floyd County Board of Supervisors.
At the board’s June 27 meeting, Supervisor Levi Cox made a motion to rescind June Bug’s $4,500 appropriation in the 2023-24 fiscal year budget following a local pastor’s comments that a drag show held June 24 in the center’s theater was “disgusting, vulgar and perverse.”
Supervisor Kalinda Bechtold also disapproved of the show, but the reason she seconded Cox’s motion was June Bug Center’s participation in a Juneteenth celebration hosted by Floyd C.A.R.E. (Community Action for Racial Equity) on June 17 at a public park.
“I really feel like the June Bug colored out of their lines when they participated at the Juneteenth celebration helping the Community Action for Racial Equity,” said Bechtold. “When you color in your lane I’m good. When you start doing things outside of what you said you were going to do with our taxpayer money, it doesn’t sit well with me and the people who knock on my door.”
Supervisors Jerry Boothe and Linda DeVito Kuchenbuch expressed concerns about the “slippery slope” such a move could precipitate. The board ultimately tabled the motion to gather more information and may take up the matter again at its July 11 meeting.
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June Bug Center executive director Shannon Hardwicke says she was blindsided by the controversy that erupted at the June 27 meeting.
A nonprofit “dedicated to providing music, performing arts, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) through ongoing after-school programs, classes, and community theatre productions that are affordable to the community,” June Bug also offers a variety of adult programming including yoga, CPR training, crocheting, computer literacy and theater for adults.
June Bug prides itself in being a community partner, said Hardwicke, which is why it joined other nonprofits on June 17 at a Juneteenth celebration hosted by Floyd C.A.R.E. at Warren G. Lineberry Community Park in Floyd. June Bug had an informational booth to share its programs with Juneteenth attendees.
June Bug also strives to be a welcoming space that discriminates against no one, said Hardwicke. That includes its rental policy.
For a Pride month festivity, Roanoke-based Downtown Divas rented June Bug’s theater to host a drag show — the type of event that has come under fire across the U.S. In May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that effectively banned public drag performances in the state. A federal judge subsequently issued a temporary injunction from the law taking effect.
“We rent space to support our operational costs and expenses,” said Hardwicke. “We rent to churches, Boy Scouts. We do not discriminate. [The drag show] was never advertised to children, and anyone who called us and asked us we referred them to Downtown Divas. We feel like it was up to the parent, not us.”
From rental fees and a portion of ticket sales, June Bug made money off the drag show, said Hardwicke, which will go toward scholarships and facility maintenance. In its most recent annual report for fiscal year 2022, June Bug earned $4,549 of its total $116,722 income from rental fees.
June Bug Center did not spend any money on the event, said Hardwicke, and no attendees complained.
But several non-attendees did, including Josh Blankenship, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Check, who aired his concerns at the board of supervisors’ June 27 meeting.
“We don’t hate anybody,” Blankenship told the board. “But the pictures I have seen on Facebook … children were in there. It just looked like a strip club scene. The pictures I have seen are nothing but disgusting, vulgar, perverse, in my opinion. I do not want my tax money, anything I give to the county, I don’t want anything going anywhere to supporting anything like that when it’s involving children in it.
“I don’t think children were forced to be in there, I don’t know. Parents can take them in there, and that’s another discussion that I don’t agree with either … [but] children holding money, with men provocatively, perverse, dancing in front of them is something that should not be allowed, period, but definitely in my hometown, in my community.” (Photos on the Downtown Divas Facebook page do show children in the audience.)
None of the five supervisors responded to Blankenship’s comments, but later in the meeting Cox — a first-term Republican supervisor who, according to his website, is a Realtor and former police officer — made a motion to rescind June Bug’s $4,500 in the budget that took effect July 1.
Cox did not offer a reason for his motion and did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails for this story.
Floyd County had included June Bug in its budget for the first time this fiscal year as a match for a $4,500 Creative Community Partnership grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, said County Administrator Linda Millsaps.
Bechtold, another first-term Republican supervisor, seconded Cox’s motion and offered up her own criticisms of June Bug, namely its participation in Juneteenth. “The thing that happened Saturday night [at the drag show], I don’t like it. It’s their choice to do with their building what they want. In some forms of judgment it’s performing arts. I don’t like it. I don’t go. I’m not about removing money for what happened Saturday. I don’t like them coloring outside the lines with getting into racial equity. That’s not arts. That’s what actually put this on my radar tonight, not Saturday.”
Boothe, a four-term supervisor who is an independent, cautioned: “This is a slippery slope here. Are we prepared to do that to every organization we donate to or provide money to if they allow someone to come in and do something we don’t agree with? In principle, are we starting down that slide?”
Kuchenbuch, who is also an independent as well as a June Bug board member, concurred: “I don’t think it can be acted on until we have more information.”
Bechtold ultimately withdrew her second and the motion failed, though supervisors indicated they would bring it up again July 11.
Last week, Bechtold explained by email that she had seconded Cox’s motion in order to “bring forth a long overdue discussion about accountability of the organizations that Floyd County provides tax payer funds to. I want to ensure proper stewardship of public monies, also the representation of Floyd County by the Board’s appointees to these many and varied committees and boards.”
Asked if she would have objected to June Bug’s participation in a celebration for July Fourth, Christmas, Veterans Day or Easter — as she did Juneteenth — Bechtold did not reply.
As both a supervisor and June Bug board member, Kuchenbuch acknowledged that she has a unique perspective in this controversy, “but at this time I want to reserve my perspective.”
Meanwhile, Hardwicke remains distraught but hopeful.
“I think that I still love Floyd,” she said. “I know a few things were said on social media that were hurtful, but the amount of support and concern we’ve received has been wonderful. I think they’ll make the fair decision and I think we’ll keep our funding.”