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Drag show and pride parade supports Middletown’s LGBT community

Published: Thursday, April 18, 2019 @ 4:00 AM

Melissa Kutzera, left, and Monica Nenni, owners of West Central Wine show off t-shirts being sold to raise money for the upcoming pride parade Tuesday, April 16 in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Melissa Kutzera, left, and Monica Nenni, owners of West Central Wine show off t-shirts being sold to raise money for the upcoming pride parade Tuesday, April 16 in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

A recent downtown event celebrating the LGBT community in Middletown caused some reaction in the city as organizers are preparing for the city’s second pride parade.

“A Night With The Queens,” a drag show, was held Friday night at West Central Wine, 1120 Central Ave. That same day, organizers announced plans for the second annual gay pride parade June 21 in the downtown.

A representative from the company that owns the Castell Building, where West Central Wine and other businesses lease space, said they can’t control what the tenants “do and don’t do” with their businesses.

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Then the person added, “We love all our tenants.”

Jeff Payne, director of Downtown Middletown Inc., said his board has taken “no position” regarding LGBT events being held downtown. He said DMI is assisting parade organizers with their special event application through the city, as it would with any event.

DMI’s focus, Payne said, is to promote downtown businesses and events in hopes of attracting visitors to the area.

When asked about the drag show being held downtown, Payne said, “We don’t control that.”

MORE: Downtown Middletown businesses organizing first gay pride event Friday

West Central is owned by two women, Mel Kutzera, who married a woman four years ago, and Monica Nenni, who is straight. They said Friday night’s drag show attracted about 70 patrons, 10 less than the occupancy, and about half of them were straight and several were from Dayton and Cincinnati. Tickets, priced at $20, were sold in advance.

Kutzera said having a ticketed event assured only those who paid would be “part of the party.”

They said the three drag queens changed into costumes in the basement, then performed throughout the bar and interacted with the customers for tips for about three hours. A second, similar drag event will be held in early May, and proceeds will benefit the city’s second pride parade.

Kutzera compared the drag queen show to a combination of karaoke and burlesque.

“We had a great time,” she said.

Three church leaders were divided about the drag show. The Rev. John Wagner, pastor of First United Methodist Church, 120 S. Broad St., said his church has gay and lesbian members and supports the LGBT community. He said any restrictions against LGBT “jeopardize all of our rights.”

Wagner said protesters with bullhorns have marched against the gay community outside his church. He asked them to “politely leave” because they were frightening the young church members.

He believes everyone should “respect the differences” in our society and he encourages residents to “treat all people with love.”

Pastor Lamar Ferrell from Berachah Church in Middletown said he hadn’t heard about the drag queen performance. But when asked, he said he preaches from the Bible, what he called “my playbook.” It’s his job, he said, to guide his congregation though biblical world views and not his own.

He said, according to Genesis: 1:27: “So God created human beings in His own image. In the image of God, he created them: male and female he created them.”

Ferrell said anyone who tries to be someone God didn’t intend can find themselves “confused, not living out their God-given identity.”

Then he added, “People don’t answer to me. They answer to God. There is a right and a wrong. I didn’t set the standard. God did.”

Ferrell, though, understands there are people with different lifestyles. He tries to counsel them, not judge them, he said.

“I’m not here to bash and pick up stones,” he said. “I’m not here to hate people, but to help people. I want to love people where they are just like God loved me where I was. I was born broken. I need help picking up the pieces in my life. I need my Creator’s help every day.”

The Oasis Church, one of the city’s most conservative churches, was contacted seeking comment about the LGBT events.

Pastor Carol Sheets responded in an e-mail: “I understand why it is upsetting to many, myself included, but I believe it is a call to the church for prayer, and for putting action with those prayers. We have been too silent for too long. Be a voice. Rise up. Let your city know your opinion. Back it up with action … there are many ways to express disapproval, including voting, and not patronizing businesses that support these events.

“The church cannot be silent — the times we are in require loving but firm responses when immorality is paraded before us. Freedom of speech works both ways.”

Kutzera and Nenni said last year’s pride parade was planned in 10 days, and because of the short notice, there were only a few protesters. After the parade, they received one phone call from a woman who promised, “Your business will fail.”

Nenni said the night of the pride parade was one of the most successful for the bar.