Members of Indivisible Highlands Ranch counter-protest on May 28 in support of an upcoming drag comedy show hosted by the Highlands Ranch Community Association. Indivisible will also host a counter-protest on June 17 to oppose a planned rally from Freedom Fathers, an anti-LGBTQ group. (Provided by Cathy Lees)

This story first appeared in a Colorado Community Media newspaper. Support CCM’s neighborhood news.

By McKenna Harford, Highlands Ranch Herald

Highlands Ranch’s first-ever drag show has become a target of a local anti-LGBTQ group, leading to protests and counterprotests from the community.

A Highlands Ranch group called the Freedom Fathers is protesting a comedy show that will be hosted by two drag performers June 17 at the Southridge Recreation Center. The Freedom Fathers claim the event grooms and sexualizes children, even though tickets were restricted to adults 21 and older.

Freedom Fathers, an organization that says it promotes Christian conservative values, plans to hold a prayer rally, described as a peaceful protest with signs outside the Southridge Rec Center, in response to the planned event.

A counterprotest, organized by Indivisible Highlands Ranch, has also been planned to support the comedy show. Indivisible Highlands Ranch is a group supporting equity, social justice and inclusion.

In a video on the Freedom Fathers’ Facebook page, Aaron Wood railed against the show being hosted at a rec center, and in a Freedom Fathers’ email newsletter, Wood said the goal of the prayer rally is to cancel the show and prevent future drag events in Highlands Ranch.

Colorado Community Media was unable to get additional comments from Wood.

The prayer rally comes at a time of rising anti-LGBTQ sentiments and laws, including the recent arrests of 31 people from a white supremacist group who apparently had planned a riot during a Coeur d’Alene Pride in the Park event in Idaho.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said they were aware of the planned protests at Southridge and are planning to have an increased presence in the area, though a spokesperson said they didn’t anticipate any issues.

Jamie Noebel, a spokesperson for the Highlands Ranch Community Association, which is putting on the event, said it is aware of community members who are disappointed by the association’s decision to host the event, but that they’ve also received statements of support. Tickets to the drag comedy show sold out quickly after they were put up for sale, the spokesperson added.

Noebel added the event meets the funding obligations and programming goals of the HRCA’s Cultural Affairs Association, which is to provide inclusive and diverse entertainment.

In an early effort to get the event canceled, the Freedom Fathers hosted a protest prayer rally May 28, which also prompted a counterprotest from Indivisible Highlands Ranch.

Cathy Lees, a Highlands Ranch resident and Indivisible member, said a group of roughly 25 people gathered at Southridge Rec Center with signs on May 28 to advocate for the event.

“Whenever people are speaking about LGBT issues, and we don’t say, ‘we’re here, we welcome you,’ it harms people and kids especially,” Lees said. “That’s what’s most important to us is that we need the community to see that there are a lot of people who love them and accept them just for who they are.”

Highlands Ranch hasn’t previously had Pride events, so Lees was thrilled to see the HRCA offer a drag show and disappointed when tickets sold out before she could get any. Despite the demand for the show, she wasn’t surprised by the backlash.

“I really didn’t think it would ever happen because this community has such a vocal minority that does not like LGBT people,” Lees said.

Lees and other Indivisible members are determined to encourage more LGBTQ-friendly events in Highlands Ranch.

Carrie Kayser-Cochran, a resident and Indivisible member, said she hoped Friday’s event would be only the start of LGBTQ representation in community events.

“We should be doing more to celebrate Pride in Highlands Ranch,” Kayser-Cochran said. “I hope that HRCA and the events committee saw the immediate response to the event and realizes that there are members of this community that would love to see more of these events in the future.”

Read more from the Highlands Ranch Herald.