ST. GEORGE — Creating safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community has been the goal of one Southern Utah group, which is being recognized with a national award and a monetary prize. 

Friends of Southern Utah Drag Stars, St. George, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Mitski Avalōx, St. George News

Southern Utah Drag Stars won the Queer to Stay: An LGBTQ+ Business Preservation Initiative sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and Showtime.

According to a news release, it is the fourth year of the initiative, which supports, uplifts and preserves small businesses that serve the LGBTQ+ community, particularly multiply-marginalized queer people.

Mitski Avalōx, the founder of Southern Utah Drag Stars, said it was a great surprise to be selected. Avalōx said the Human Rights Campaign is the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization.

Avalōx desires to give businesses, especially small and queer-owned companies, a way to preserve their businesses. 

“You know how difficult it is, especially for small businesses. Now you can imagine small businesses owned by queer folk who are often, as you see in my case, with the city being so politicized,” Avalōx said. “I started this as a way to ensure that we can have a safety net to keep going and keep doing what we’re doing.”

The Southern Utah Drag Stars, along with American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, sued St. George and city leaders in May, accusing them of discrimination for denying their permit application to host an all-ages drag show at a local park.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, argued St. George City violated the First and 14th Amendments and is “part of a yearslong effort to target drag performances and LGBTQ Pride events,” according to a news release from the ACLU.

Mitski Avalōx, the founder of Southern Utah Drag Stars, has been awarded the national Queer to Stay: An LGBTQ+ Business Preservation Initiative sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and Showtime, St. George, Utah, unspecified date | Photo courtesy of Mitski Avalōx, St. George News

Avalōx said it’s vital to create safe spaces for the queer community, noting that the purpose of presenting drag shows is to unite the community.

“Doing these drag shows and these events really helps bring the community together and create a space of understanding because I know there’s plenty of misinformation out there,” Avalōx said. “I have done a lot of work with people who, at the very beginning, when I first started doing this, were very against what I did. But after getting to meet with people who are traditionally conservative, they’re like, OK, maybe you’re not what I see on the news. You’re not the lives that they depict you to be when you watch Fox News and all these other outlets.”

Historically, LGBTQ+ people often do not receive resources to boost their ideas and community. Avalōx said the impact of the funds received from the award will provide invaluable help and safe spaces to the Southern Utah queer community. 

Avalōx plans to branch out and provide resources like STI and HIV testing at events planned. Avalōx said sexually transmitted infections are prevalent in the straight community in Southern Utah as well. 

Other issues Avalōx wants to address include helping with securing housing for everyone. She said housing is an issue affecting everyone from all walks of life.

“It’s very difficult with our market right now to be housed. And so I want to take Southern Utah Drag Stars in a different direction, not just doing events, but creating awareness,” Avalōx said. “It’s the idea that even though we feel powerless, our presence and existence alone is an act of rebellion and, therefore a source of power. And rebelling by existing is such a powerful force that drives activism and serves the community locally.” 

According to the Human Rights Campaign website, “Without comprehensive equal rights legislation at the federal level, LGBTQ+ people are subject to an inconsistent patchwork of legal protections in their states and local communities. This leaves millions of our most marginalized people at risk of potential discrimination at work and in their daily lives.”

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