Organizers canceled the Holi-Drag Storytime scheduled to take place at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus on Saturday, Dec. 3. The event had been , a violent, neo-fascist, far-right organization.
Red Oak Community School, which organized the family-friendly reading featuring drag queens Mikalyla Denise, Bianca Debonair and Ava Aurora Foxx, that the event had been called off “due to last minute developments.”
This statement followed a public Facebook Live video posted by Denise on Saturday, Dec. 2, in which the drag performer called security protocols into question and announced their intention to withdraw from the event rather than placing children and community members at potential risk.
“We’re the drag queens there to read the books. We’re the drag queens there to entertain. We’re the drag queens that’s being slandered on Twitter. We’re the drag queens being slandered in any Proud Boy interview that went out,” Denise said in the half-hour video. “Since the very beginning, in the talks with the church, and in the talks with the school, it’s been about the youth and the young people and making sure that, no matter what, they are not dealing with anything that will affect their present or their future. We’re worried about the long-term. We’re not worried about shit that’s going to happen today. Cause there’s drag story hours that are going to continuously keep happening.”
The cancellation arrives at a time when drag queen culture is under heavy attack from the far right, with influential Twitter accounts run by figures such as Chaya Raichik (@libsoftiktok) and Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) driving a moral panic directed at members of the LGBTQ community.
“They’re using out of context materials and out of context clips to drive this outrage,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic. “And because they’re hammering the same point over and over and over again, especially around ‘groomers’ and that kind of thing, it feeds the moral panic even more.”
Actual grooming occurs when an adult takes advantage of a child’s vulnerability to manipulate them into sexual abuse. But increasingly the term has been weaponized by the right wing and inaccurately directed at the LGBTQ community and those who stand in support of them.
This online targeting has real-world impact, leading to directed at members of the LGBTQ community. On Nov. 20, a shooter killed five and wounded 17 in an attack on Club Q, a gay bar in Colorado Springs, Colo. In addition to murder charges, the shooter also faces five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime.
“LGBTQ people have already been at higher risk for violence, and this year has already been one of the worst years for anti-LGBTQ violence in a while,” Caraballo .
At the time, Caraballo pointed to increased protests and the rising threat of violence directed toward drag queen culture, including an incident in which a man firebombed an Oklahoma donut shop after it hosted a family-friendly drag event.
“Fortunately, no one died, but we’ve seen where Pride flags are being burned, and this is really starting to pick up into very scary territory," Caraballo said. "In many ways, there’s this very close relationship between [accounts like Libs of TikTok] and the Proud Boys, who serve as the sort of enforcers in this. A lot of these events highlighted [on social media], it’s the Proud Boys showing up. … They really are the modern equivalent of the SA (the Sturmabteilung, a paramilitary organization associated with the Nazi Party) or the Blackshirts (the paramilitary wing of Italy’s National Fascist Party). They’re the enforcers of political violence directed at the targeted group.”
Previously, the Columbus and Central Ohio LGBTQ+ Leadership Roundtable, a group that consists of Stonewall Columbus, Kaleidoscope Youth Center, HRC Columbus, Equitas Health and LoveBoldly, requested that the community not show up to counterprotest the Proud Boys at the Holi-Drag event.
“This situation is potentially volatile and dangerous, and the safety of the children, families, performers and our community are of paramount importance,” the Leadership Roundtable said in a statement. "Our actions must be in service to their protection."
Update: Red Oak Community School released a video statement about the cancellation, which you can watch here.
Update II: Despite the cancellation, the Proud Boys and other white nationalist groups including Patriot Front still showed up to protest across the street from the empty church. Note signs advancing the "groomer" slander and a shout-out to Save the Children, a movement closely aligned with the QAnon conspiracy.
These photographs are courtesy Katie Forbes.