Protesters threw rocks and smoke grenades at each other outside a drag queen event at an Oregon pub that was to feature an 11-year-old performer, but Sunday’s event went ahead as planned despite the confrontation.
The 11-year-old did not participate as planned, but was in the audience of around 50 people as some 200 protesters and counter-protesters – some of them armed – clashed outside the Oregon pub where Sunday story time.
Authorities said people in the crowd of around 200 protesters on both sides were “briefly throwing projectiles” at each other, prompting authorities to close the street. Some in the crowd had semi-automatic rifles, police said. The projectiles were rocks and 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 has made Eugene’s pub the latest target of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that is increasingly targeting drag story events around the United States.
The Drag Queen Story Hour, a national project designed as a way to educate and entertain children by appealing to their imaginations, has drawn backlash on social media from naysayers who claim to want to protect children. Organizers said the protests frightened and endangered attendees and they pledged to increase security at events but not to disrupt their programs.
The pub said in a Facebook post on Monday that the event was safe despite the protests, but the business expects to be “a target for violent extremists for quite a while” and said it has spent $2,000 on private security on Sunday.
Pub staff had “an intense weekend filled with racist and homophobic hate mail, physical threats of violence and repeated attacks by right-wing media branding our Drag Queen Storytime as nefarious”.
“We all love you so much, and we will never back down from hate,” the pub said in its Monday post. He added: “Thank you for standing with us against this growing trend of violence against gay youth and LGBTQ places.”
The pub frequently holds LGBTQ-friendly events and had promoted the show as a story hour featuring drag performers singing songs and reading picture books, with plans to include the 11-year-old entertainer.
Inside 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 in front of an audience that included families with youngsters children.
An ad for the event featured a rainbow, unicorn and puffy clouds against a blue sky, as well as superimposed photos of the child performer and three adult drag queens.
The 11-year-old boy, who goes by the name Vanellope, has performed in the restaurant and concert hall before with little fanfare. Videos posted to the pub’s Facebook page show her dancing and singing in a poofy white and blue dress as families with young children watch and dance.
Tension around the show had been building all week after right-wing figures learned about it and posted it online.
The nonprofit Drag Queen Story Hour was started in San Francisco in 2015 by activist and author Michelle Tea. Chapters have since been opened in the United States and elsewhere. Other organizations with drag readers also formed.
As part of Drag Queen Story Hour programming, drag queens read to children and their parents at libraries, bookstores, fairs, parks and other public spaces to celebrate reading “through the glamorous art of drag”.
Other drag events have also been in the news lately. More recently, a half-hour “Drag Kids” show scheduled for the Boise Pride Festival generated national backlash and anonymous threats. Festival organizers dreamed up a short performance where kids could don sparkly dresses and lip-synch to songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us” on stage. But the organizers eventually withdrew the festival program for security reasons.