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HONOKAA, Hawaii (KITV) – Inside, a welcoming oli was chanted to a packed house of hundreds.
Many came to support Honokaa local Elise Itried’s homecoming performance. The returning drag performer now lives on the mainland.
“It means a lot to be able to bring queer art and queer representation to such a small town, because growing up, I didn’t have a lot or many people to look up to,” Elise told KITV4.
Outside, protesters said they came from across the Big Island, some upset that a prior Pride event in Kona had a bouncy house for kids next to the performance stage. They also took issue with the Honokaa People’s Theater flier offering a discounted ticket for “18 and under.”
“Just leave the kids out. That’s all we want. Let the kids be kids,” Jonette Kiesow said. “It’s adult entertainment.”
One couple told KITV they came to support the show as it was a benefit for the Honokaa Business Association. They say their outlook is to each their own:
“From deep down inside we are Christians,” Halai & Shann said. “And we are here to support the community. That’s all that we came for. We didn’t come for anything else.”
Yet, the theater received an array of emails before the big show, some aggressive. Some were offended by the idea of drag itself.
“Why is that offensive to people? We should be able to dress however we want to and entertain people in any way,” theater board member Barbara Franklin said. “There is nothing in this show that is going to be offensive unless you take the religious view that it’s not ok for a man to dress as a woman.”
The theater made it clear tipping the performers would be contactless, and dollar bills were to be put in a cooler up front or in buckets ushered around by volunteers. Most audience members just tossed dollar bills in the air.
Outside, there were some verbal discussions. Protesters told onlookers that they didn’t come in hate, but wanted boundaries when it comes to adult performances.
“And you will have parents who clap loudly for it and scream, because they want to be on the side of the oppressed. Sad part is that it is the gateway to sexualization,” protester Sean Dearing said.
Across the country, similar controversies have played out with protest crowds clashing, at times with much less Aloha. Yet, everybody crossing over to confront the protesters in Honokaa this weekend, for the most part, kept their cool.
Elise Itried said of the situation, “It all comes down to a lack of understanding. And it really, more than anything, shows that we have to sit down and listen. So we can learn more about people who are different.”
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