Athens drag troupe Athens Showgirl Cabaret announced via Facebook on March 16 that the troupe will no longer be performing at Athens PRIDE or Boybutante AIDS Foundation’s annual Boybutante Ball.
In its Facebook post announcing the ceased participation, Athens Showgirl Cabaret show director Kellie Divine, known as Kelly Phillips off stage, specified that claims were made “against her character,” involving non-consensual behavior, non-consensual touching and transphobic language at her shows.
Divine was a member of the Athens PRIDE board for 10 years and served this year as a board member for the Boybutante AIDS Foundation. Due to these allegations, Divine was asked to either step down or resign by both organizations.
“An anonymous complaint was delivered to [Athens PRIDE and the Boybutante AIDS Foundation] with concerns about my alleged use of transphobic language, and an alleged case of physical assault to one or multiple people at my shows,” Divine said in a statement to The Red & Black.
According to Diego Wolf, a close friend of Divine and member of the Athens Showgirl Cabaret, the events started with a Facebook post. Divine had incorrectly printed a performer’s name on a flyer who was set to perform at a benefit show hosted by Athens Showgirl Cabaret. Upon seeing the misprint, the performer made a Facebook post on Feb. 16 indirectly calling out Divine for being “transphobic” and for “sexually assaulting” audience members. This led to multiple people commenting on the post, also calling out Divine’s behavior.
The inappropriate behavior toward audience members, according to Alex Suarez from local drag troupe The Kourtesans, involved “non-consensual touching and inappropriate misconduct” toward audience members during Athens Showgirl Cabaret numbers, during which troupe members brought members of the audience on the stage and asked them to strip from their clothes.
Alicin Hendricks has been a board member on Boybutante AIDS Foundation for six months, and said the announcement that the troupe will no longer be performing is a surprise to the organization. Boybutante didn’t ask Athens Showgirl Cabaret to no longer perform at events, according to Hendricks.
Still, the foundation has to consider its image when allegations arise.
“[Boybutante AIDS Foundation] wants to build community, build our mission, and sometimes we have to look out for the organization,” Hendricks said. “We have to look at different situations through the lens of whether or not it benefits Boybutante.”
According to former Athens Showgirl Cabaret member Lori Divine, she and Divine always ask an audience member whether or not they’re comfortable being singled out and brought onto the stage.
Athens Showgirl Cabaret has been on the drag scene in Athens for nine years, and Divine has been a drag queen in Athens since 2008. The troupe began when there was no other drag troupe in Athens, and Divine said being accused of this conduct at shows is hurtful for the show director. Divine said she aimed to create a safe, welcoming space for LGBTQ people from all walks of life.
“Being a victim of abuse myself, doing that sort of action to someone else is completely unimaginable,” Divine said in a statement. “It’s simply a falsehood to create a world where Kellie Divine would be harmful and hateful.”
Members of the drag community are hurt that audience members would feel anything besides safe at drag shows. Suarez said the audience members should feel safe no matter what, and people accused of wrongdoings will hopefully learn from statements and allegations.
“As we progress in the world, we are trying to supply safe spaces for queer people where we don’t single out or embarrass them, rather than a place where we’re making people feel uncomfortable,” Suarez said.
As far as the future of Athens Showgirl Cabaret, they are still performing regularly at Go Bar. While they are no longer participating in Athens PRIDE or Boybutante AIDS Foundation, Inc. events, the troupe still supports the mission of both organizations.