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Opinion: Last weekend is proof Great Falls needs more LGBT events

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Last Saturday I saw more people at Machinery Row than I have all summer, if not longer than that.

The drag show had a big hand in making the event a roaring success. And, while there were not a whole lot of drag queens, the ones who were there did it well and were much more than just some guys dancing around trying to act like women.

Kola Stomey, back, and Lexi Tucker-Dixon perform at Machinery Row last Saturday. Photo courtesy of Tyson Habein
Kola Stomey, back, and Lexi Tucker-Dixon perform at Machinery Row last Saturday. Photo courtesy of Tyson Habein

If you know anything about the world of drag, you’ll know that it’s more than that. It’s a personal choice and about exploring what gender identification really means. Mostly.

While there wasn’t any official count since the event was free, organizers Sara and Tyson Habein estimate that there were up to 250 people on hand at the busiest portion of the night.

“I also think the drag show was a big motivator that got people out, not just the karaoke, since that already happens a lot around here,” Sara said. “Which, of course, there’s nothing wrong with karaoke either! That’s why we did it — to have something fun with a small prize.”

The large turnout also meant a great night for the bar, and I would be surprised if there was not more of these in the near future. Sara said it was a lot of work setting up this first event and they likely will not have another one for at least a few months, but that isn’t stopping others. The desire is there, clearly, let’s see who will step up to fill it. Planned Parenthood of Montana also had a hand in the organizing of the event, and I’m sure their wheels are turning about what to do next, as well.

And indeed, they have one event in the works in relation to condom art in October which we will provide info about as it gets closer.

But, what can we glean from such an encouraging turnout? Is it simply a novelty that isn’t seen here that often? Or, is it bigger than that?

That novelty was an aspect of what made it a success — people were curious about what a drag show here might look like — but you’d have to be very selective about your beliefs to claim that’s the only reason for the large turnout.

There has been a slow but steady shift of people’s opinions in Great Falls regarding the LGBT community, which for the longest time hardly existed.

The crowd at the Karaoke Contest/Drag Show waits for the next performer to take the stage last Saturday. Photo courtesy of Tyson Habein
The crowd at the Karaoke Contest/Drag Show waits for the next performer to take the stage last Saturday. Photo courtesy of Tyson Habein

Take a moment and consider what Saturday meant for those who belong to the community. At the very least it was a chance to let your hair down and not worry about keeping up appearances. You could be who you are without facing any judgement.

There also were many pockets of communities that came out to support them. You had random cosplayers in one part of the bar, musicians in another, artists in another, and even a few people dressed up as pirates in another.

It’s an encouraging sign that it’s happening here, just as it is across the globe. And while there aren’t many local polling numbers, the statewide numbers are largely encouraging.

In 2011, a poll found that just 37 percent of Montana voters supported legalizing gay marriage. But, a poll taken last year by MSU Billings found that 46 percent of Montanans now support gay marriage, which was the first time that a poll found more people who supported gay marriage than those who oppose it.

Let’s keep in mind, however, that this doesn’t mean everyone in Great Falls is ready to accept gay culture with open arms. When I was still working at the Tribune, I was told not to choose photos of two women kissing or two men kissing because it resulted in many upset callers the next day that I was told nobody had time to deal with.

The Tribune had run polls of their own which asks about gay issues, and almost every time people would fill up the phone line with hateful comments about how gays will never be accepted.

One call in particular sticks out the most for me. During the Sochi Winter Olympics, there was a question about whether the U.S. Olympics team should have boycotted the games because of Russia’s anti-gay stance.

One caller said that Russia should boycott America’s coming to the games because of our country’s “lax” acceptance of gays. Another said that she wished the U.S. had a leader like Vladimir Putin who would crack down on giving homosexuals equal rights.

Hating people for being gay is an ugly, ugly thing that isn’t going away, but I know it is becoming more irrelevant.

As of today there are 96 members of the closed Facebook group titled “Open Definition: Great Falls LGBTQ + Allies.” Since last weekend there are 30 new members. You can request to join by clicking here.

The scene outside of Machinery Row last Saturday before the Karaoke Contest/Drag Show. Photo courtesy of Jules Shindel
The scene outside of Machinery Row last Saturday before the Karaoke Contest/Drag Show. Photo courtesy of Jules Shindel

A supporter and member of the group myself, I’ve had the chance to introduce myself, let people know I support what the community here is about and that I believe in accepting everyone no matter who you are, what your sexual preference is or where you land on the gender spectrum.

And of course, the lawsuit being brought against the State of Montana to overturn the ban on gay marriage was filed by two Great Falls natives, Tonya and Angie Rolando. They likely could never have even conceived of the idea if they didn’t think they had a chance to succeed. And I believe it will succeed.

We will all find out soon, but if the winds of change in other states such as Utah, Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia and Oklahoma, all of which have had gay marriage bans overturned in the past year, I would be highly surprised if Montana is not added to that list soon.

Back to the Drag Show at Machinery Row, however, it clearly was a great night of support, acceptance and fun. Even if you were not an LGBT supporter and somehow stumbled into the patio, you’d have to be an extremely boring person not to have had fun.

I can’t wait to see what kind of success future events have, and if we see an influx of them. But, for now let’s all raise our glasses and toast Great Falls for a job well done.

At the end of the day, love wins again. It always has and it always will.


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