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Daviess County budget eliminates funds for performing arts center over drag controversey

The LGBTQ community and their advocates say they feel marginalized by a new budget approved by Daviess County Fiscal Court. Members gave final approval Thursday night to a $107 million spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The budget has drawn controversy because it eliminates county funding for Owensboro’s RiverPark Center.
The performing arts venue received $12,500 in the current budget, but has since been scrutinized for hosting 21 and up drag shows.

Kathy Wethington spoke at Thursday night’s fiscal court meeting and asked where the outcry was when Ted Nugent came to the RiverPark Center last year.

“Ted Nugent is nothing but a bag of obscenity and nobody cut the budget for the Riverpark Center over that," Wethington stated. "No one is forced to go anywhere and see something they don’t want to. Adult people should be allowed to choose for themselves what they go see. Some small group of bigots shouldn’t be interfering with that.”

Most of those who spoke during the meeting criticized fiscal court for the vote, while one local resident praised members for taking a stand against what he called sexual perversion.

At an April meeting, Daviess County Judge-Executive Charlie Castlen said the RiverPark Center wasn't even turning a profit on the drag performances.

“When they have created something as divisive as it’s been in our community, and they readily admit they’re losing money on it, and yet they keep doing it, it’s almost as though they’re saying, 'We don’t need your money,'" Castlen said.

A bill died in the Kentucky General Assembly this year that would have imposed a statewide ban on drag shows.

RiverPark Center Executive Director Rich Jorn told WKU Public Radio that the shows will continue as the venue abides by state law and promotes nothing indecent, illegal, or immoral.

"It's unfortunate because this is 2023," Jorn stated. "I represent our entire community, not just those who vote one way or go to one church over another."

As a non-profit, Jorn said every penny counts, and the elimination of county funding hurts. Jorn added the RiverPark Center will have to increase fundraising efforts, but is hopeful those vocal against the budget will help fill in the funding gap.

According to its calendar of events, the RiverPark Center will host a June 9 Pride Night will feature drag performances and comedians.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.