The picture is a little bit clearer on the drag show that Mason City hosted as part of its RAGBRAI festivities earlier this summer. A city councilman admitted the drag show wasn’t advertised so as not to bring attention to it, but mysteriously said nobody was trying to hide anything. Minors were allowed to attend. And an event organizer was willing to pay the $750 on her own or find a sponsor if the city wanted her to.
In early August, Mason City Administrator, a person called Aaron Burnett, said the city was proud to be a sponsor and support the “very successful RAGBRAI Mason City overnight.”
He said the city was a “key sponsor” and the overnight was a collaboration of many entities — including the city of Mason City, Visit Mason City and Main Street Mason City.
“The goal of RAGBRAI Mason City was to provide a unique experience that welcomed all of RAGBRAI to our community and offered something for everyone to connect with during the night. The (drag) show closed out the night and brought people into the Plaza area, and away from the Main Stage area.”
We asked Burnett if minors were allowed to attend the show but never received a response.
The Iowa Standard obtained public records through a Freedom of Information Act request that provides a little more clarity on how the event happened and whether minors were allowed to attend.
Records show there was some consternation about the event, though not everyone understood why.
Lindsey James, the executive director of Visit Mason City, sent a message in late July that a concerned citizen asked about the drag show happening in Mason City.
“Is there any tax dollars going toward it,” she asked. “Any information you have for this?”
The person responded they were “pretty sure” the money received from the city was used to pay for t-shirts and their first deposit for Felder and Sugar Ray.
“Those were our first expenses,” James was told.
“Thanks,” James responded. “Wish I didn’t have to ask for this. Crazy world.”
Councilman John Lee was asked if he was aware of the RAGBRAI show on July 21 and told by a citizen they do not approve and do not like their tax dollars indirectly funding the event.
“I was not aware of that,” Lee responded. “But if I’m not mistaken, I’ll check more, the city funds were used for payment for the two bands, T-shirts and maybe some other deposits.”
On July 22, Nancy Lund wrote to Burnett and thanked him for having her back.
“Ultimately, however, if someone has to take a hit for this it should be me; as a non-resident I have the least skin in the game,” Lund wrote. “It was my idea, and I stand by it as a great one. The fact is that I pushed it, and if it comes to that, I’ll pay for their cost myself or find a sponsor to specifically pay their cost ($750) so it can be line-itemed in the budget for the public to see.”
“No worries. This is a silly thing for people to get bent out of shape on. You are 100 percent good. I can’t wait for the party!”
Not everyone on the committee was happy about the planned drag event it seemed. A July 20 text said:
“Wow! There’s gonna be drag queen entertainment on the stages and in park!?? (facepalm) There are committee people not happy what Nancy pulled! Exactly why I stepped away because of Nancy.”
It seems like even some council members were confused at the specifics surrounding the drag show. Lee responded to one concerned citizen who shared concern about the drag show after the fact:
“I am going to push back a little bit on this. There were no public funds, as far as I’ve been told, it was PG-13, it was done at 10:30 at night when all kids should be in bed. It wasn’t advertised for the sake of not bringing too much attention to it, not because they were trying to hide anything. I believe in freedoms and rights of all citizens of this great country.”
What Lee doesn’t explain is why minors were allowed to attend and how he determined it was “PG-13.” He said it wasn’t advertised for the sake of not bringing attention to it, but then follows that up by saying they were not trying to hide anything.
He also said public funds were not used, but remember Lund’s offer to pay the $750 herself or find a sponsor if she had to.
Videos and photos from the drag show reveal minors certainly were in attendance. And at one point a drag queen dances with an audience member’s face very near their pubic region, for all to see.
We asked Lee if he believes that was appropriate to be seen by minors and whether he considers it PG-13 behavior. We’ll publish his response when we receive it.
In another text exchange involving councilman Will Symonds, one of the participants wrote:
“Iowa Standard really going hard on this drag show. I think it’ll be pretty lame. I don’t think city had any involvement in the drag show.”
As records show, the city certainly did have involvement.
Following the overnight event, Lund wrote a message of thanks for supporting “the vision for entertainment that was inclusive and embraced the RAGBRAI ‘a team for everyone’ spirit.”
“I was so grateful for the unwavering support I received in the weeks leading up to yesterday in regard to our ‘surprise guests,'” Lund said, likely referring to the drag queens. “I wish you all could have been there to see the huge crowd gathered to greet Hazel Sanchez-Belle and her fellow drag sisters at the Principal Pavillion stage.
“Introducing Hazel to the welcoming crowd, hearing the cheers and seeing the joy in the faces of the riders and the community members who were seeing Mason City walk the diversity talk loudly and proudly truly brought tears to my eyes. By including them in our MC RAGBRAI entertainment, you were showing everyone that Mason City’s diversity initiative is more than a mural on the side of a building. Hazel and the girls remarked on the warmth and welcome they received from Mason City (and the biggest tips they’ve gotten in a show ever!).”
When everything was over, Lund shared a message with the rest of the people who made Mason City’s RAGBRAI events happen. The message thanked Nancy for her efforts, and specifically focused on the drag show.
Robin Anderson, the President and CEO of the Mason City Chamber of Commerce, responded:
“Nancy-KUDOS! You KNEW this was a great idea from the get-go! Thank you for all you did to ensure a memorable evening for all.”
We asked Burnett about the $750 — whether Lund covered it herself or found a sponsor. We asked what the $750 was for.
When we receive his response, we’ll publish the information.
Here, again, are some of the scenes from the drag show that were publicly posted to social media: