HOWELL, Mich. — Howell is the conservative small town with a big diversity controversy. For 60 years the Melon Festival has been held as a family-friendly weekend tied to the local crop. It was canceled last year due to COVID. It was canceled this year after Drag Queen Bingo was added as an attraction.
Howell business owners, including Keith Ridge, owner of Black Iron Coffee, stepped in to save the festival. It is their biggest weekend. They’re still recovering from COVID losses.
The compromise was a Drag Queen Bingo, which was moved to the local main street historic Howell Theater. It is 21 and older and is sold out.
“My wife has gone to one. It’s a hilarious comedy show with bingo, not an indoctrination,” Keith Ridge tells 7 Action News.
Critical comments have gone viral on social media. Some calling the Drag Queen Bingo event bringing the “sinful lifestyle” to Howell.
“I’m not against it but I don’t know what it’s going to do to the town of Howell,” said Tracy Lowe who lives in Howell.
City leaders canceled the beer tent and the social district where people could walk around with alcoholic drinks. In a statement they said:
"The action taken was not clouded by an opinion, does not take a social side, was not motivated by politics rather a discussion-based purely on the concern over safety. As we have learned from examples displayed after various sporting events that involve high emotions, large crowds and alcohol, things can take a drastic turn quickly."
That prompted some to say city leaders still don’t get it.
“That plants that seed where someone’s going to oh, we’re going to go there because there’s going to be an uproar,” Sonny Duke said.
Carrie Carter says, “they’re making a big deal out of it. Let’s all just have fun.”
And Keith Ridge says, “It's unfortunate that the idea of diversity is still a little tight around here.”
The festival is set for next weekend Aug. 13 to 15. The controversy and debate could last much longer.