BILLINGS — June is Pride Month and with festivities kicking off soon, ZooMontana in Billings is receiving backlash for a Pride event being held there.
Some Billings community members are vowing never to visit the zoo again, but the zoo and 406 Pride, an LGBTQ+ resource center, say that’s not about to stop them.
Later this month, the zoo will hold a “Drag Queen Story Hour” on June 22. It's an event held across the United States where a drag queen reads a story to kids.
It's an event most Montanans have never experienced and one some say they will “never” attend.
"Why are we putting such a contentious issue right in the heart of that area?" the founder of Family Rights Alliance, Billings-based Jenna McKinney, said Thursday in a video call with MTN News.
McKinney and others are demanding the zoo reconsider holding the event.
"This is not appropriate. We really don’t appreciate this in our community and especially at this venue," McKinney said.
But ZooMontana is standing by its decision.
“While personal threats and threats of no longer supporting the zoo are concerning, we will not let unwarranted fear and hate deter our decision to move forward with this harmless and fun reading event that is held throughout the country. At the end of the day, if your personal agenda does not fit this event, we simply ask that you do not come to the zoo that day,” ZooMontana Director Jeff Ewelt wrote on Facebook Thursday.
Walt Donges, the president at 406 Pride, is proud of the zoo's support.
“There are few times in my life that I can say I'm actually impressed, but I am impressed. I am pleased that it’s not just me standing up, it’s the zoo standing up for what’s right,” Donges said Friday,
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, has posted on social media that the zoo shouldn't hold the event. A prominent Montana Democrat, Penny Ronning, who running for the eastern Montana congressional district, said she supports the zoo.
Donges says this is not an issue about what's appropriate for kids.
"This is not for all kids, perhaps. But those in our community that are at risk, we need them to be able to feel at one with their gender identity. And this is all that is, gender identity," he said. "We have a number of supporters in this endeavor, B-Town Vapes has been great for us... when we make those connections, we grow together."
Donges says 406 Pride is used to this kind of reaction.
“In this conservative community, people think that their way of thinking is the right way all the time and there’s not a lot of room for people that think differently or progressively. Yeah, we know what we’re up against. We’re up against a bully,” Donges said.
But McKinney and others say they’re far from a bully.
They see this as a moral issue and think the event crosses a line.
"To put something like this in the heart of a place for small children is just wrong," McKinney said.