DURHAM, NC (AP) — As shootings at two electrical substations cut power to thousands of homes in central North Carolina last weekend also sparked widespread speculation that the multi-day blackout could be the latest in several attempts to shut down a local drag show meant to celebrate the LGBTQ community in rural Moore County.
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said earlier this week that police have found no evidence linking the attacks to the drag performance that began shortly before the power went out, nor have they revealed a motive. However, authorities are considering the overlap of times and recent attacks on similar events across the country as they move forward with their investigation.
Police said the blackouts began shortly after 7:00 p.m. last Saturday, after one or more people went to two electrical substations, broke down the doors and opened fire on them. Whoever was responsible, Fields said, “knew exactly what they were doing to … cause the blackout that they caused.”
Duke Energy officials said power was fully restored to the county Wednesday night.. A spike of more than 45,000 customers lost power over the weekend. Many residents said they struggled to stay warm as temperatures dropped below freezing overnight.
Regardless of whether investigators connect the two events, Sandhills Pride Director Lauren Mathers said repeated efforts to shut down what was billed as a family-friendly drag performance have left the county’s LGBTQ community feeling vulnerable.
She is especially concerned about the safety of local queer and trans youth, who she said rarely see themselves represented in rural, right-leaning places like Moore County.
“This is the first time I have had this level of hate against something we love so much,” said Mathers, a Southern Pines resident and producer of the drag event. “Kids in rural communities don’t necessarily always have the same level of support, and what I hear from my kids is that there is constant bullying.”
Naomi Dix, the headliner of the December 3 show at the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines, said she and her fellow organizers were brutally harassed in the weeks leading up to the show. Conservative community leaders led a protest outside the theater, spreading the false narrative that it was a sex show and demanding it be closed, she said.
His concerns are shared by federal officials who have been on high alert in the weeks since a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado, killing five people and wounding 17 others..
in a national terrorism advisory bulletin Issued last week, the US Department of Homeland Security warned that the LGBTQ community and critical infrastructure may be targets of violence as domestic extremists and foreign terrorist organizations encourage online supporters to carry out attacks.
The FBI posted a notice seeking information related to the North Carolina investigation, and Governor Roy Cooper announced Wednesday a reward of up to $75,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
For Dix, a Durham drag queen, the threats she faced ahead of the event were not isolated incidents, but the “unfortunate reality for those working to increase LGBTQ visibility” in rural and conservative communities. Despite the backlash, she said, this won’t be her last performance in Moore County.
On the night of the show, private security and local police monitored the venue, Dix said. When the power went out about 30 minutes into the show, he asked the crowd of 370 to illuminate the room with their cellphone lights as he sang Beyonce’s “Halo” to them.
“Our job as drag performers is to facilitate and create safe spaces,” Dix said. “Specifically when it comes to Moore County, and dealing with this situation here in Southern Pines, is finding these areas where there is not a great representation of the queer community and giving them art and a space where they can feel safe to express themselves. .”
a recent study of threats, protests and violence against drag events by the LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD put North Carolina and Texas at the top of the list of states with the most drag events this year. Of the 124 documented incidents in 47 states as of the end of November, at least 10 occurred in North Carolina. That tally does not include the latest demonstration in Moore County.
These attacks on performing arts with strong historical ties to the LGBTQ community are the latest examples of “a continuing and increasingly violent pattern” of right-wing activists and politicians using false rhetoric to stoke fear and fuel LGBTQ opposition. said Barbara Simon, director of news and campaigns for GLAAD.
Opponents of family-oriented drag events often falsely claim that they “groom” children, implying attempts to sexually abuse them or otherwise influence their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Lawmakers in seven states have proposed laws this year that prohibit minors from participating in drag shows and ban public drag performances. A bill introduced last month in Texas seeks classify drag as a “sexual orientation business” on par with strip clubs.
Serena Sebring, executive director of Blueprint NC, a coalition of progressive advocacy organizations in the Tar Heel state, said while authorities urge people not to jump to conclusions about motive, she cannot ignore persistent threats to communities. LGBTQ and critical infrastructure across the country. .
“Every member of our community bears the cost of unchecked homophobia and transphobia,” Sebring said. “Moore County is an example and should be a warning about what happens when we allow bigotry to flourish.”
Hannah Schoenbaum is a staff member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on covert issues.