Verbal harassment and humiliation aimed at a drag performer of color exploded live and on stage June 17, at The Bar at 316. The local establishment typically caters to a mostly young and white gay male crowd. Community members are crying foul and pointing to continuing evidence of racist and discriminatory behavior from owner Jeff Edwards.
The firestorm of reaction has led to more than 250 signatures of condemnation from well-known performers, high-profile individuals and businesses in the LGBTQ community. Peaceful protests are continuing outside of the establishment on a regular basis, while many in the community are telling Edwards it’s time to get out of the business and encouraging potential customers to stay away.
Shelby Savage, a well-liked, beard-wearing drag performer was the brunt of Edwards’ verbal assault. Named Miss South Carolina USA Unlimited Newcomer this past year, she and the other performers on the bill the night of June 17, among them Angela Lopez, Ava Gemini and Aurora Carlisle Nicole, had already performed a successful first show before the evening’s controversy occurred.
“It was great,” Savage recalled. “The audience was having a lot of fun, everyone was enjoying the show and I made $200! There were bills all over the floor.”
It was during the second show, after the crew of performers had gone downstairs for a costume change and returned back to the stage that trouble arose.
“The DJ wasn’t really paying attention,” Savage recalls. “At first he played a completely wrong song by another artist, something other than what I had given him. I pointed that out and said it was the second song on the drive by Lizzo.
“He still didn’t get it right and I screamed, “if you’re not going to play the right f*ckin’ song, then I won’t f*ckin’ perform.
“I could have handled that better and I probably shouldn’t have said it like that. I felt bad because he came out and apologized for it and I realized it was an honest mistake.”
Just before Savage was to start the next performance, Edwards reportedly made a mad dash from the stairs towards the stage, screaming at the DJ and Savage.
“Cut it, cut it,” Edwards was heard yelling. “Just shut it down.” After aggressively demanding the entertainment be halted he turned his attention to Savage, who recalled Edwards screaming, “Get this damn freak off my stage!”
“I was shocked,” says Savage. “I think everyone was. The whole room fell silent. It was so quiet in there you could have heard a mouse peeing on cotton,” she chuckled uncomfortably.
“It just wasn’t something I was expecting. The mood had been so positive and uplifting. When I perform I tend to do the stuff that’s campy and comedy. I like to make people laugh.”
But the incident that had just unfolded in the comfortably packed room didn’t leave anyone laughing.
“People started to leave,” Savage explains. “I think it made a lot of people uncomfortable.”
Savage confirms she left shortly thereafter but according to her friend and the show host Angela Lopez, things continued to deteriorate. “She told me that he was very patronizing and talking down to her,” Savage said.
Lopez posted a video on social media offering a heartfelt apology to Savage and distancing herself from Edwards and 316.
“I want to apologize to Shelby for the way she was treated on Saturday at 316,” she said slowly.
“I feel horrible that it ever happened, because I was the one that asked her to come there. It was horrible to witness and I just can’t understand why [it happened].
“That being said, I honestly cannot condone or promote or work at a place that treats people that way, because no one should ever be treated that way.
“I will no longer be affiliated with The Bar at 316 and there are not enough ‘I’m sorrys’ I can say to Shelby for the way she was treated.”
For her part, Savage remains in good spirits.
Her response to Lopez and the Facebook video clip confirms she knows what her priorities are. “I know it was never your intention for me to feel unwanted or attacked in one of your shows. I was there to witness the shocked and disgusted look on your face as Jeff yelled across the room … I want you to know that I love you and this has only made our friendship and bond stronger.”
Touched by response from the community, Savage is wholly supportive of their call to action, which places a ban on performers who work with Edwards from appearing at other venues across both Carolinas and calls for him to completely step away from the nightclub business. She bears no ill will towards the venue, employees or patrons and she recognizes the historic importance of the Dilworth neighborhood bar, which originally opened as a club in August 1989 and was previously known as Liaisons. “I don’t want to see that go away,” she offers. “It is significant. I just don’t believe Mr. Edwards is the one who should be running it.”
Savage is certainly no stranger to controversy, especially after being rebuked previously by an LGBTQ nightclub in North Carolina two years ago that seemingly cooked up a questionable mix of various reasons to prevent her from performing.
In June of 2021 Savage posted on her Facebook account that she was denied entry into a Greensboro, North Carolina talent show held at Chemistry Nightclub. According to comments Savage attributed to the club’s show director, she was disqualified because she had already performed at other night clubs in town.
If Savage is no stranger to controversy, Edwards practically has BFF status, at least according to a press release created by Johnny Saldana, a board member at the Freedom Center for Social Justice and the co-founder of the Charlotte Gaymers Network.
The press release reads as follows: “There are multiple police reports, hundreds of reviews and countless first-hand accounts that show Edwards’ abusive and threatening pattern of behavior towards LGBTQ+ people.”
The final paragraph offers significant detail on some of Edwards’ more controversial incidents, including a purported arrest in August 2019 for resisting an officer and another arrest for battery assault by strangulation in November 2019.
Among the reviews of the bar there is evidence of different standards of treatment from various patrons. A post dated June 21 on Yelp indicates Edwards apparently refused entry to a potential patron and told him he was “too ugly to be let in,” while later repeating the same phrase to a drag queen, days after the event involving Savage.
Other posts reporting racist behavior directly attributed to Edwards show up in January of this year and date back as far as November 2016.
Attempts were made to contact Edwards to allow him to comment on this article by phone and text. He did not respond.
On national, regional and local levels, LGBTQ communities have been caught up in a seemingly never ending nightmare of legislated discrimination. South Carolina has already passed anti-trans and anti-drag laws. In North Carolina, Republicans remain hard at work attempting to bar all trans youth from participating in public and private educational institution sports activities.
In an atmosphere for many in the LGBTQ community that feels like regression, the last thing you’d expect would be discrimination from within the community towards itself.
Savage is adamant that all LGBTQ folks need to stand together to battle intra-community intolerance and racial animus.
“It is very important,” Savage insists. “For the future of our community, we need to get behind this to fight against people like Edwards and others like him, both inside and outside our community. This has been going on for years and it has to stop. We have to stop the hate.”