VICTOR — A local cider brewery has become a target of conservative ire ahead of hosting an LGBTQ event this Saturday.
Highpoint Cider is hosting Teton Valley Pride’s drag queen show, dubbed Idaho Pride. The event will host regional professional drag queen performers at two ticketed times, including an afternoon event that is open to all ages.
For the past several weeks, the business has shouldered criticism on local social media pages for its decision to host the event. Much of the discussion has been on the Teton Valley, Idaho Community page, a closed Facebook group.
Local Republican leaders have also weighed in on the drag show — including the Teton County Republican Central Committee and former state representative Chad Christensen, who indicated the event was sexualizing children in a recent social media post.
A protest is expected at Highpoint Cider during the LGBTQ event this weekend. The brewery is also experiencing other trouble as a result of its offer to host the event.
Broulim’s Corporate, eastern Idaho’s largest independent grocer, recently pulled Highpoint Cider’s products from its shelves in Driggs and Alpine, Wyoming, in response to the drag event.
Company owner Robert Broulim said the move “was the right thing to do at the time.”
“No matter what I say I will get my butt in trouble,” Broulim said in a phone interview Friday evening. “I feel like right now, with the amount of customers questioning us, this is what we decided. We only carry (Highpoint Cider) in two stores, and we will put it back out when we believe the time is right.”
Broulim said in the course of three days, his stores had received an “overwhelming” number of calls about Highpoint Cider and their decision to host an all-ages drag show. He said he had a respectful call with Highpoint owners before his stores moved the alcoholic drink to the back storage rooms.
Broulim said he and his management teams together decided to pull Highpoint indefinitely, adding he has never pulled a product from his shelves before.
“I could be wrong,” he continued about making the decision to suspend the sale of Highpoint. “Our customers have spoken loudly and I have to take care of my locals. They are my bread and butter. They got us to where we are and we want to take dang good care of them. I’m not a vindictive person. I’m not out to hurt [Highpoint], but we’ve been lambasted by so many people.”
Highpoint founders and owners, brother Alex and Andrew Perez, declined an interview, but issued a statement to EastIdahoNews.com on Friday.
“Highpoint Cider cares deeply about our community and we have worked to foster an inclusive environment where everyone is free to be themselves regardless of sexual orientation, race, or beliefs, without fear of discrimination or prejudice,” wrote Alex Perez. “We host a wide variety of events put on by local non-profit organizations and we feel that it is important to make space for a variety of viewpoints; as long as they are respectful and courteous to others.”
Joseph Crupper, who also goes by the moniker Miss Cali Je, grew up in Idaho, and on Friday was cresting the mountains that surround Teton Valley on her way to perform for Saturday’s event.
“I am nervous, scared even,” the professional drag queen said over the phone, acknowledging she knew a protest against the show was being organized. “I’m going outside of my comfort zone, to a place I have not been before, but feel I can be scared and brave. That’s why I’m coming.”
Teton Valley Pride’s organizer Madison Kwansy has been helming the fledgling organization for about a year. Creating events and places for the community to gather has been a priority for Teton Valley Pride, she said.
“Teton Valley Pride is something that was born out of necessity,” Kwansy said. “I looked around the community as I was planning a Pride block party last year and realized that there was little to no support for the queer community here. At that moment I thought, if no one is providing this support, I am going to.”
Cali Je founded Reading Time with the Queens, an Idaho Falls and Pocatello-based program where drag queens read children books at local libraries.
Reading Time with the Queens came under fire by local conservative and religious groups in February. A protest was held during an event at Marshall Public Library in Pocatello. As a result of the protest and concerns over the safety of participants, Reading Time with the Queens was ultimately moved to a private location in Pocatello. It was already held at a private business in Idaho Falls.
Cali Je said she understands growing up different and feeling different. She said her hope is to use art and self expression to model self acceptance.
“I think the reason we are having (a drag show) in Victor now is they feel like they need to have one,” she said.
“My goal with Teton Valley Pride is to provide education, resources and support to the queer community and the community as a whole,” Kwansy said. “I think this drag event has come out of that need.”
Cali Je said the drag shows are tailored to all audiences. She said she plans to dress in a bright flamingo outfit for the all-ages performance and will sing some children songs.
Backlash over the drag show
Unlike Reading With the Queens, which was held initially held at a public location, Idaho Pride is being held at a private business — Highpoint Cider — and is a ticketed event.
But detractors say the location doesn’t matter — they are more concerned with the show being for “all ages.”
In a post on his social media page, Christensen encouraged people to protest the event with a provocative picture of children dressed in drag. Kwansy confirmed the image was not associated with the drag show. In an interview with EastIdahoNews.com, Christensen acknowledged he did not know what the drag event would look like and had not spoken with the organizers or the owners of Highpoint Cider.
A self-described conservative Republican, Christensen said he was not out to hurt a private business.
He said he was invited to attend the protest by Megan Weeks, one of the administrators of the Teton Valley, Idaho Community page. He added he did not know that the Highpoint product was pulled from Broulim’s shelves, but said that was the personal decision of the Broulim’s owners.
Weeks declined comment for this story, but later texted EastIdahoNews.com and said the protest was a “grassroots movement,” which “no one organized.”
Christensen posted on his Facebook page that an auto repair shop just south of Highpoint would be the “parking base” for the protest. When contacted for this story, the auto repair business said they had not approved this use of their property and did not want to be named in this article.
On Wednesday, the Teton County Republican Party posted a message to their Facebook page condemning the event, specifically singling out Highpoint Cider.
“It is the opinion of the Teton County Republican Central Committee that the deliberate targeting of minors by a local business is a reprehensible and deliberate act,” read the online statement. “We stand in opposition to this event and anything of a related nature in the future. As recently shown by the actions of a national beer brewing concern, the public backlash against a company may be direct and long lasting.” Read the full statement here.
Teton County Republican Chairman Ed Yeager would not further discuss the statement, including how the event was targeting minors, directing EastIdahoNews.com back to the statement. He also declined to state whether he thought the local Republican party was hurting a local business with its statement.
“Making space for people to feel included does not necessitate taking anything away from someone else,” concluded Perez with Highpoint Cider in his statement. “At the end of the day, regardless of personal, political or religious beliefs we are all human beings and have a lot more in common with each other than the media or political organizations on the right or left may want us to believe.”