Supporters of the June Bug Center rallied in defense of the Floyd nonprofit arts and education center during the two weeks when its county funding hung in the balance after it hosted a drag show and participated in a public Juneteenth celebration, newly released emails and social media messages show.
According to messages obtained by Cardinal News through a Freedom of Information Act request, some members of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors sought to alleviate concern that the board would eliminate $4,500 in county funding for the longtime community arts center after a Roanoke group held a drag show there on June 24.
“I do not plan on cutting funding to the June Bug Center,” supervisor Jerry Boothe wrote to a county resident in a June 29 email. “Unfortunately I am one vote of 5.”
Ultimately, county funding for the center was preserved, but even so, budget cuts could be in store for the June Bug Center and other county-funded agencies, based on another supervisor’s emails and messages.
“I have no intention of cutting the JBC money unless it is part of cutting ALL the outside agency stuff,” supervisor Kalinda Bechtold wrote to a Floyd businesswoman in a thread of Facebook messages on June 30.
Bechtold continued: “[I]magine how much extra cash our folks would have to support things they like if it wasn’t being taken to support all this other stuff!”
Bechtold had seconded supervisor Levi Cox’s motion to eliminate the June Bug Center’s funding during the board’s June 27 meeting, three days after the drag show was held inside the center’s small theater. Cox made his motion after a local minister spoke during a public comment period and called the drag show “disgusting, vulgar and perverse,” citing photographs of the event he had seen that showed children in attendance.
After Cox’s motion was seconded, a brief discussion followed, which included supervisor Linda DeVito Kuchenbuch saying that singling out one agency’s funding could be a “slippery slope” that the board should not go down. Supervisors then punted the issue to the board’s July 11 meeting, when they approved the budget resolution with the June Bug Center funding intact with no discussion.
The budget passed 4-1, with Cox casting the lone “no” vote.
During the 14 days between the two meetings, supervisors heard from both supporters of the June Bug Center and those who opposed the drag show, with supporters writing most of the correspondence, according to messages released to Cardinal News.
“Floyd County is blessed with a diverse population of citizens who get along amazingly well in spite of divergent political and social differences,” wrote one supporter who said he lives in the Montgomery County community of Pilot near the border with Floyd County.
“Please don’t become the laughing stock [sic] of SW VA by canceling funding to one of Floyd’s valuable cultural assets because a minister finds a bully pulpit in which he can draw attention to himself and a supervisor decides she has the right to decide [what] national holidays should be observed in Floyd.”
That last line refers to Bechtold, a first-term Republican from Indian Valley, who said during the June 27 meeting that her concerns about the June Bug Center had less to do with the drag show and more to do with the organization’s participation in a Juneteenth event on June 17 that was sponsored by Floyd C.A.R.E. (Community Action for Racial Equity). The June Bug Center operated an information table along with other local nonprofits during the community event at Warren G. Lineberry Community Park in downtown Floyd.
“I don’t like them coloring outside the lines with getting into racial equity,” Bechtold said during the June 27 meeting. Bechtold has been criticized for the “coloring outside the lines” comment about an event that highlights people of color.
A resident of Copper Hill emailed Floyd County Administrator Linda Millsaps and the supervisors asking for clarification of how “coloring outside the lines” can disqualify an agency from county funding, and whether there is a requirement for “coloring inside the lines.”
“Can you please refer me to the local code or other documentation that defines the standard of ‘coloring inside the lines,’” the email read.
The writer also asked if the county has a policy that restricts nonprofit groups from participating in events “tied to racial diversity.”
“Is it the position of Floyd County that participation in racial diversity programs disqualifies an entity from receiving funding,” the email reads. “Can you provide the documentation outlining this government policy?”
If the writer received a response to his email, it was not included in messages released to Cardinal News.
The June Bug Center’s board of directors sent a three-and-a-half-page letter to the board of supervisors that addressed “inaccurate statements” made during the June 27 meeting, the letter read.
The June Bug board explained that the county funding is a match for a $4,500 grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts Creative Community Partnership program to fund after-school programming that would include activities such as old-time mountain music, robotics, a Lego club, drama, a computer club and more.
The June Bug board strongly rejected the claim that participating in the Juneteenth event went against the center’s mission. Its letter pointed out that the center’s strategic plan specifically calls for the center to build “new partnerships with other local organizations.”
The strategic plan calls for the June Bug Center to improve by “[r]ecruiting and engaging more volunteers to help out with the June Bug Center’s operations and getting more community members motivated to grow the center.” The plan also states that the center must be more visible in the community by showing up at “festivals, hosting workshops, having tables at fairs, or vendor events.”
Providing information about the organization during the Juneteenth celebration fulfills those goals, the letter implied.
Several of the emails involved an exchange between June Bug Center board president Emily Gruver and Bechtold to schedule a meeting to discuss the funding issue. Those emails were cordial, and it appears that Bechtold, Gruver and one other June Bug Center board member met for lunch at the Floyd Country Store on July 5.
In an email before that meeting, Bechtold repeated her earlier position that, even though she doesn’t like drag shows, the center has the right to host any event it wants without interference from local government. She said that she seconded Cox’s motion to rescind funding in order to have a broad conversation about county spending on nonprofit groups, in general.
“Please understand that I don’t care about the rental to the drag show folks,” Bechtold wrote to Gruver on June 30. “I had to second the motion in order to have a discussion. It does not mean that I will agree with the motion or will vote for it. The door that was opened for me was the opportunity to finally get accountability and oversight for the organizations that receive county funds and the boards and committees that have BOS appointed representation. The JBC being at the Juneteenth event was not taken well by many. That optic opened a door for me that Levi and Joe [most likely board chair Joe Turman] did not see coming.
“It is of utmost importance for me to be a good steward of the tax payer’s hard earned money and ensure that the monies are being used for only their intended purposes. I ran on not raising taxes, and personal freedom.”
Representatives from the June Bug Center declined to provide details about what was discussed between Gruver and Bechtold during the July 5 meeting, but instead referred to the letter the June Bug Center board sent to supervisors.
Gruver also sent at least two emails to Cox to discuss the June Bug Center funding, but it appears that she never received a reply from the supervisor.
The only message from Cox that was released as a result of the Cardinal News FOIA request is a text message of a photo from the drag show that he forwarded without comment to Millsaps, the county administrator. The photo appears to have been a screenshot from a social media site for Downtown Divas, the Roanoke group that sponsored the drag show and rented the June Bug Center facility.
Bechtold has not responded to messages from Cardinal News since she issued a one-paragraph statement on July 4 to reporter Michael Hemphill that gave her reasons for seconding Cox’s motion to rescind the June Bug Center’s funds. That email was similar to other statements she has made about wanting to increase oversight of local funds that county organizations receive.
Bechtold did appear in a YouTube interview with Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, that was posted shortly after the board voted to keep the funding for the June Bug Center. Bechtold repeated that she believed the government had no right to tell the June Bug Center what events it could book.
March, however, did not approve of the drag show.
“To me, it’s very off-putting, being a strong female, seeing men basically making fun of women,” March said, as Bechtold sat next to her on a couch and nodded.
March repeatedly said she did not attend the drag show, but described what she said happened there based on videos and photos she saw later. She said that she was upset that children attended the show waving dollar bills during what she called a “striptease.”
March, whose time in the General Assembly will end in January following her lopsided primary loss to fellow Republican Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, in June, said that she asked the attorney general’s office to look into whether the drag show violated Virginia law.
“We kinda dug into some state code to see if there’s any code against it and there is,” March said during the video. “There’s decency and being around minors, and we’ve sent this to the AG’s office to get an official opinion.”
A spokeswoman for Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said that she “cannot confirm or deny the request of any official Attorney General opinions.” A message sent to March from Cardinal News asking for details of her request was not answered.
March also slammed the county seat of Floyd, a one-stoplight town of 450 known for its dedication to bluegrass and old-time stringband music and for its funky shops and restaurants, and unnamed business owners for the “appearance of being liberal.”
“A lot of the liberal, left-leaning folks, they own the buildings in the downtown, they’ve been able to get the grant money to fund their business ventures,” March said, as Bechtold continued to nod in apparent agreement.
“So, when you come into Floyd, it looks very eclectic, it looks very artsy, it’s like it’s all artisans, when, in fact, it’s not. It’s like 70-some percent conservative Republican here. It’s the old-timey farmers, it’s conservative values. … We’ve all managed to get along for the most part, but you bring this social clash to this area, people are very outraged.”
Bechtold later says in the video that the easiest way to deal with the “social clash” over the June Bug Center funding controversy is “to pull our tax dollars back from picking winners and losers” and that local government “shouldn’t be funding businesses and nonprofits.”
Bechtold reiterated her desire to reduce funding for nonprofits in a Facebook message exchange with a Floyd County woman who supports the June Bug Center and told Bechtold that center’s leaders believe that the supervisor is coming “after them.”
“I am not after them,” Bechtold replied. “You should hear me during budget workshops! I am after all of them! I really believe in constitutionally limited government and that includes spending.”
Bechtold also wrote to the woman that “big gov’t folks have a majority on the board.” She added, however, in reference to June Bug Center director Shannon Hardwicke, “don’t worry, she won’t lose her funding.”
Bechtold tried to maintain a consistent response while engaging across multiple fronts with June Bug Center supporters and those who criticized the drag show.
In one lengthy exchange that apparently occurred through Facebook messages, a woman criticizes Bechtold for voting to approve the June Bug Center budget grant and tells her that “our tax dollars you appropriate [are] going to the host of the drag queen show where children were handing money to ½ naked men.”
Bechtold correctly told the woman that no taxpayer money — local, state or federal — paid for the drag show. The sponsor paid the June Bug Center to rent the facility. Bechtold told the woman that the drag show rented the place the same way a church would also be allowed to do.
The woman was unsatisfied with the reply. What follows is an abbreviated version of the exchange.
Woman: “We are asking they leave our children alone!”
Bechtold: “It isn’t even close to being that simple. Do you really want government dictating moral issues?”
Woman: “I’m saying children being there. The adults have every right to be ignorant.”
Bechtold: “So again, how does that happen?”
Woman: “WE THE PEOPLE taking a stand.”
Bechtold: “That is a position for the people. What you are asking for is government intervention.”
The woman tells her to read some articles she forwarded, as the thread ends.
Bechtold had a more constructive thread of messages with a Floyd businesswoman who described herself as “liberal.” The woman told Bechtold, “I appreciate your perspective — which appears more genuinely & consistently Libertarian.”
Bechtold responded: “I think you and I agree on many issues, and the ones where we differ are truly personal choices, they don’t make either of us bad people. And I like a good discussion, too many will not explain their stance.”