Protestors Hurl Rocks, Smoke Bombs Outside Oregon Pub's Drag Story Hour

“They want to destroy safe spaces for queer youth. And we will not let them win,” Emily Chappell, owner of Old Nick’s Pub, told HuffPost.

A protest and fight broke out outside a pub in Eugene, Oregon, during a drag queen storytime event — adding to the growing list of attacks against drag events and the LGBTQ community across the country.

The event featured an 11-year-old performer as the guest of honor at Old Nick’s Pub on Sunday, The Register-Guard reported. There were roughly 200 protestors and supporters outside the pub — some armed. Several hours into the demonstration of the drag story hour, authorities said a fight broke out between the two groups, where rocks and smoke bombs were briefly thrown. The Eugene Police Department responded to the outbreak by shutting down the street.

The incident hardly stands alone. Drag queen story time events across the country have faced threats and attacks from hate groups this year, fueled by displays of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and a myriad of GOP legislation targeting queer kids.

“These protests are absolutely ridiculous, especially because these people claim to be supporting children,” Emily Chappell, owner of Old Nick’s Pub, told HuffPost. “[The protestors] have been manipulated by a targeted hate campaign in this country whose agenda is demonizing queer people and spaces in support of anti-LGBTQ legislation they want to push through this fall. It’s sad, really.”

Drag Story Hour (DSH) is a nonprofit organization that uses drag as a traditional art form to “promote literacy, teach about LGBTQ lives, and activate children’s imaginations,” Jonathan Hamilt, executive director of DSH, told HuffPost. It started in 2015 with drag queens reading to children in libraries and has since expanded to include literary and creative programming for children led by drag queens all over the world.

Republicans have routinely expressed disapproval and intentions to ban drag queen storytime events, claiming they expose children to sexually explicit material. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in June that the state’s child protective services should investigate parents who take their kids to drag shows, calling them “not age-appropriate.” That same month, Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R) echoed similar opinions in a tweet, likening the events to “perverted sex shows.”

Hamilt countered these conservative beliefs by explaining that the organization has received praise from parents and teachers.

“Let’s be clear: DSH provides age-appropriate programming, and we routinely receive praise from parents and educators who are delighted that we offer children safe spaces to express themselves and support one another,” he said.

Chappell said her pub has held other LGBTQ-friendly events and drag queen story hours, noting that they have positively impacted queer youth, making them feel safe, seen, and supported by the community.

“I have gotten hundreds of letters from people who support us, saying our events make their child feel safe and secure in a world that wants to demonize being gay,” Chappell added.

She credited conservative beliefs about the sexualization of drag queen story time to an overall lack of understanding of drag.

Rich Kuntz, also known as Gidget, reads to children during Drag Queen Story Hour on March 21, 2019. The LGBT+ Center Orlando canceled a weekend drag queen story hour for children after receiving online threats.
Rich Kuntz, also known as Gidget, reads to children during Drag Queen Story Hour on March 21, 2019. The LGBT+ Center Orlando canceled a weekend drag queen story hour for children after receiving online threats.
Sarah Espedido/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

“There is nothing sexual about lip-syncing to uplifting songs and reading stories in an elaborate costume. They do it at Disney every day. While drag can present as sexual at adult-themed events, [the Oregon pub] event is not adult-themed, and neither are any of the drag queen storytimes I’ve ever heard about,” Chappell explained.

Alleged members of the Proud Boys, an extremist group, hurled slurs and yelled about “pedophiles” towards patrons attending an all-ages drag show at a bar in California in August. Recently, an LGBTQ center in Florida canceled their drag queen story hour event scheduled for Saturday after receiving threats from hate groups mere days after the protest in Oregon.

The protest outside of Old Nick’s Pub was far from surprising to Chappell, who said her business received numerous phone calls and messages the week prior filled with hate speech and threats. Protestors accused the event of sexualizing the child performers, reports The Register-Guard. Proactive measures were taken to ensure safety, with the business adding $2,000 worth of security to the event. The pub is raising money to fund extra security for future events in light of the recent incident and the growing number of received threats.

“We are indeed planning on having extra security at all of our LGBTQ events and some others that these hate groups have already said they are going to target,” Chappell said.

Rather than addressing real threats in the country, such as the epidemic of gun violence, Hamilt said right-wing politicians are spreading dangerous conspiracy theories and inciting violence against drag performers and the LGBTQ community. “This is part of a coordinated campaign to deny the rights of LGBTQ people, who already endure disproportionate rates of suicide and homelessness, and legislate us out of existence,” he said.

This month, 30 Republicans introduced the “Stop the Sexualization of Children” bill, targeting all federally funded facilities and programs — including drag queen story hour events. Anti-LGBTQ legislation spreads beyond drag shows, with some states attempting to ban gender-affirming medical care.

“Any attempt to criminalize our work is rooted in tired homophobic and transphobic hate and misinformation, and we refuse to give in to politicians who are too bigoted and boring to comprehend our vision for a world in which every child can be safe and fully expressing who they are,” said Hamilt.

Chappell said that the pub continues to receive threats even after the event, but they will not be backing down.

“Their goal is to get us to stop operating and stop hosting all ages events,” Chappell said. “They want to destroy safe spaces for queer youth. And we will not let them win.”

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