Drag Story Time at Oregon Pub attracts armed protesters

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Protesters, some armed, threw rocks and smoke grenades at each other before a drag queen Story Time event at an Oregon pub, but the weekend show, which was due to feature a child actor, went ahead as planned .

The 11-year-old did not attend as scheduled but was in an audience of about 50 when about 200 protesters and counter-protesters – some armed – faced each other outside the Oregon pub where Sunday’s storytelling session was held.

Authorities said people in the crowd of about 200 protesters on either side briefly “threw projectiles at each other,” prompting authorities to close the road. Some in the crowd had semi-automatic rifles, police said. The projectiles were stones and some smoke bombs, the Register Guard reported.

Police made no arrests and said one person was taken to hospital by ambulance with an unspecified injury.

The tense protest made the pub in Eugene, about 110 miles (175 kilometers) south of Portland, the latest target for anti-LGBTQ rhetoric which is increasingly targeting drag story-time events in the US

The Drag Queen Story Hour, a national project conceived as a way to educate and entertain children by appealing to their imaginations, has drawn backlash on social media from opponents who claim to want to protect children. Organizers said the protests had indeed frightened and endangered attendees, and they vowed to improve security at the events but not shut down their programs.

The pub said in a Facebook post on Monday that the event was safe despite the protests, but the company expects to be “a target for violent extremists for quite a while” and said it paid $2,000 for Sunday having spent private security.

Pub staff had “an intense weekend of racist and homophobic hate mail, threats of physical violence and repeated attacks from right-wing media that portray our drag queen storytime as nefarious”.

“We love you all so much and we will never back down from hate,” the pub said in its Monday post. It added, “Thank you for standing with us against this growing trend of violence against queer youth and LGBTQ venues.”

The pub often hosts LGBTQ-friendly events and had advertised the show as story time with drag performers singing songs and reading picture books, with plans to include the 11-year-old performer.

At the pub, the child who was scheduled to perform instead became the show’s guest of honor as several adult drag queens sang and read picture books to an audience that included families with young children.

An advertisement for the event had featured a rainbow, unicorn and puffy clouds against a blue sky, along with overlaid photos of the child actor and three adult drag queens.

The 11-year-old, who goes by the stage name Vanellope, has previously performed at the restaurant and live music venue with little fanfare. Videos posted to the pub’s Facebook page show her dancing and singing in a billowy white and blue dress as families with young children watch and dance along.

Excitement about the show had been brewing all week after right-wing figures found out about it and posted about it online.

The non-profit Drag Queen Story Hour was started in San Francisco in 2015 by activist and author Michelle Tea. Since then, chapters have opened in the US and elsewhere. Other organizations featuring drag readers have also formed.

As part of the Drag Queen Story Hour program, drag queens read to children and their parents in libraries, bookstores, county fairs, parks and other public places to celebrate reading “through the glamorous art of drag.”

Other drag events have also been in the headlines lately. Most recently, a half-hour “Drag Kids” program planned for the Boise Pride Festival prompted national backlash and anonymous threats. Festival organizers envisioned a short performance where children could don glittery dresses and lip-sync on stage to songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us.” But the organizers eventually pulled the program from the festival for security reasons.


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