Ladies and Gentlemen of the Richland City Council,

I am incredibly saddened to have to be writing this email. However, after the City Council Meeting on April 4, 2023, I feel I need to address some troubling statements as a mental health professional with specialized training and experience in sexual offending behavior.

At today's meeting, an individual cited misinformation claiming expertise — in a matter in which they have none — to attempt to obscure their ulterior motive of removing spaces that do not align with their personal beliefs. The individual identified the all-ages drag show (not a drag show aimed at children, but rather an inclusive space for all ages) as an opportunity to groom children. The clinical definition of grooming per Craven et al. 2006 was empirically derived as: "A process by which a person prepares a child, significant adults, and the environment for the abuse of this child. Specific goals include gaining access to the child, gaining the child's compliance, and maintaining the child's secrecy to avoid disclosure." Inherently, grooming is a secret act, just as sexual offenses of a child are rarely conducted in broad daylight (or at a 1pm public event surrounded by large numbers of adults, bystanders, and staff).

This individual equated the holding of a public, all-ages drag event as giving the opportunity to offend children. According to the Department of Justice, 93% of juvenile victims of sexual assault know their perpetrator, meaning that the offender is a family member [or] friend, and by clinical definition, has known the child for more than 24 hours. This event will last approximately 2 to 3 hours. Further, in multiple studies, children are no more likely to be abused by individuals who identify as homosexual than those who identify as heterosexual, controlled for prevalence rates of LGBTQ individuals in the general population (Jenny et al, 1994).

Finally, the individual described a series of symptoms that seemed to be associated with the "sexualizing of children" to include anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal ideation, etc. These symptoms are known trauma responses. Being sexualized (i.e. sexually abused or objectified in a sexualized manner) are associated with these sequelae of symptoms. However, drag shows do not constitute the sexualization of children. There is no pornographic material being shown. There is no objectification of children. There is no inappropriate touching of children. There is no nudity. There is nothing of a sexual nature occurring at these shows. There is expression of alternative gender identity, which is not classified as a traumatic sexual experience to a child.

There is one aspect of the individual's testimony that I do agree with: that youth are vulnerable, particularly LGBTQ youth. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24 (Hedegaard, Curtin, & Warner, 2018). Further, LGBTQ youth are more than four times likelier to attempt suicide as their non-identifying peers (Johns et al. 2019; Johns et al., 2020). The Trevor Project's most recent survey indicated that 45% of LGBTQ youth experienced serious suicidal ideation in the last year (Trevor Project 2022). There are a number of competing hypotheses as to why this rate is so aberrant from the societal norm when controlling for all other variables. One of these possible contributors is the lack of affirming spaces for these individuals. It is a consistent finding of the Trevor Project that LGBTQ youth are less likely to attempt suicide when they have access to LGBTQ affirming spaces, which include all-ages drag shows (Trevor Project 2022).

Further, I am deeply troubled to hear that a member of the city council is responding to complaints from community members by encouraging them to contact the Emerald of Siam with their dissatisfaction as to their choice to exercise their first amendment right at their private establishment. The Emerald of Siam and their employees have been receiving daily harassment and hate speech via multiple avenues. Your actions are condoning this behavior and it is quite frankly inappropriate.

Thank you for your time,

Paige Hearn, MA, LMHCA