As the dust clears after what will surely be known as the Summer of the Drag Queen Bingo Controversy, Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority employee Amelia Purdy-Ketchum has resigned her position. Purdy-Ketchum, who booked the adults-only entertainment for the Howell Melon Festival beer tent, apparently had had enough.
“I decided to resign from my position on my own,” Purdy-Ketchum said, “and with the full support of the staff.”
What for one Livingston County politician was a profile-raising blow for “the children,” was for Purdy-Ketchum a battle for equality.
“I encourage everyone to get more informed about our local leadership,” Purdy-Ketchum said. “Be sure to vote out those who aren’t interested in standing up for equality.”
I will argue that the only clear winner of the Drag Queen Bingo controversy was equality as embodied by the Livingston Diversity Council. Coming off a first-ever, successful Pride Day event in Livingston County, the diversity council and LGBTQ issues were elevated front and center this summer. (And it didn’t hurt that during the same time as the drag queen bingo controversy raged, Wes Nakagiri, chair of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners, ham-handedly replaced the county’s longtime rep on the Huron Clinton Metroparks Board over diversity, equity and inclusion training for Metroparks employees).
The public battle of epic proportions over the Drag Queen Bingo event was ginned up by Meghan Reckling, head of the Livingston County Republican Party. After the late-evening, adults-only event was booked, Reckling used her social media platform to whip up her followers, and she even called for an investigation of the employees of the Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority.
Things got real ugly real fast.
I won’t go into all the details here, but if you weren’t paying attention to the news during July and August, you can click here to get caught up. But you need to understand that the controversy got so bad that the Howell City Council actually considered canceling the Melon Festival, brought down just once in its 60-plus years of existence by the pandemic in 2020; in the end, Drag Queen Bingo did not take place as part of the Melon Fest — which went on — and the revenue-generating beer tent was cancelled.
Reckling is surely giving thanks that the city didn’t outright cancel the event. An ambitious politician who ran unsuccessfully for state office once, Reckling will most certainly run again; causing the cancellation of the popular community event would have forever tarred her as the Grinch Who Stole Melon Fest.
So, Reckling pretty much survives the controversy; while her detractors consider her a scold supreme, her supporters now view her as their mighty culture warrior.
I’ll argue that another casualty of the Drag Queen Bingo controversy is Howell City Council Member Jeannette Ambrose, whose seat is up for re-election in November: Ambrose pulled out of the race because her “life situation has changed.” But because her withdrawal came so late — after the ballots had been printed — her name will still appear on the ballot. Should she get enough votes to win one of the three open seats, the council will appoint her successor.
Ambrose, who was appointed to the Howell City Council in September 2018, also sits on the board of the Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority, or the “eye of the drag queen controversy storm” as it has come to be known.
I think not. I could be way off base, but I can only imagine how the ugliness whipped up by the Drag Queen Bingo controversy may have affected her.
Also taking a big hit were Howell’s downtown merchants, who didn’t get the revenue from Melon Fest that they had hoped would offset all that they’ve lost in the pandemic.
Perhaps one of the biggest hits of all was the self-inflicted blows of the Howell City Council, which just couldn’t bring itself to stand up to the criticism. The council actually called an EMERGENCY MEETING to decide whether or not to cancel the venerable Howell Melon Festival. Let’s give thanks cooler heads prevailed and the shrunken Melon Fest took place.
Let’s all hope lessons were learned all the way around.