LGBTQ issues front and center in St George council race

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Two LGBTQ candidates came up short in the primary for the St. George, Utah, city council race. With 14 candidates lining up for three seats on the council, the three incumbents made it through to the general election in November, with one barely making it in 6th place.

Katheryne Knight, who is bisexual, and Austin Hodges, who is gay, campaigned for the seats. Both said they were responding, in part, to the culture wars happening in the area.

“The people of St. George are tired of the division,” Hodges said. “They are tired of the infighting and the bickering. I feel like they are ready for a candidate who won’t stand for mudslinging or aggression.”

Knight agrees, saying there are more important issues to spend valuable council time debating.

St. George has made national headlines several times over the issue of family-friendly drag shows in public spaces. The council fired its city manager in 2022 after an uproar by heavily conservative community members over his refusal to cancel a drag show event during the filming of HBO’s “We’re Here.” Since then, community members have targeted the local farmer’s market because it is run by a business owner who allows drag events in their building. The city council also voted to stop a drag show at a municipal park. The city was forced to allow the show by a U.S. district judge, who ruled the city violated the performers’ constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.

Two of the non-incumbent council candidates are running on highly conservative platforms, which include resistance to the new state flag, Second Amendment rights, and returning the name “Dixie” to Utah Tech University. Both are also targeting drag shows under terms such as “protecting children.”

“I believe the city council has a crucial role to play in safeguarding our children from adult content and sexualization, and I am committed to taking action to address this pressing concern within the boundaries of our legal framework,” Brad Bennett wrote on his campaign website. “I firmly believe that we must not allow any content or events that are age-inappropriate for children to be hosted in venues where they are likely to be present. This includes adult-oriented material, as well as content that can be sensitive, confusing, or provocative for their young minds.”

“It is unacceptable for any adult content, whether direct or implied, to be displayed in areas where children are present or in public spaces such as parks. Creating safe and appropriate environments for everyone, especially children, to enjoy without exposure to inappropriate or mature content is essential,” candidate Paula Smith wrote on her site. “I will support any necessary action to ensure that does not occur.”

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