Bloomington Drag Queen Story Hour Recieves Violent Threats

Shared From: VinePair: “The Culture War Has Come to Craft Brewing. Time to Pick a Side.”


The threats started pouring into Switchyard Brewing Company last Friday in earnest. People whipped into a frenzy by local and national right-wing agitators on social media bombarded the Bloomington, Ind., craft brewery via email and phone. Accusations flew foul and furious.

“You name it, we heard it,” Kurtis Cummings, the brewery’s founder, tells Hop Take in a phone interview. “People stating that there would be huge crowds protesting this event, that we’re indoctrinating children, that we’re pedo[file]s, that we’d better make [admission] 18 and over or bad things are gonna happen.”

“Shut it down,” they told Cummings about the family-friendly drag brunch the brewery had scheduled for this past Sunday, its fourth such event. “Or else.”

One of the leading lies enraging the nation’s red-assed bullies these days is the manufactured moral panic — spoon-fed to them by Tucker Carlson, the Facebook algorithm, and the guy who owns Twitter — that drag queens are sexual predators engaged in a nefarious, wide-ranging plot to “groom” children for illegal pedophilic relationships. There’s no evidence for this, of course; it’s just a convenient, homo- and transphobic myth with which conservative kingmakers focus the base’s Eye of Sauron upon challengers to the status quo. False though it is, it’s a powerful call to arms in the deliberately relentless right-wing war on the LGBTQ+ community in general and trans people in particular. As such, reactionaries radicalized online march on venues both public and private that have the temerity to host drag brunches, advertise their allyship on social media, or even simply offer gender-neutral bathrooms.

Craft breweries, which have often marketed themselves as progressive, inclusive, community-oriented oases, tend to do all these things. Unfortunately, there may come a day when the culture war arrives at their taproom doors, like it did at Switchyard’s this past weekend. Now, not then, it’s time to decide what their values are and how to live them — and to prepare accordingly.

“I’m a person who prepares for the worst and hopes for the best in pretty much everything in my life,” says Marley Rall, the founder of the Brewmaster’s Taproom in Renton, Wash. “But never once [did I ask myself] what’s your plan for when people decide that they want to shoot at your business because you have a human being reading books to children?” Last week, right around the time Cummings & co. started getting inbound pressure in Bloomington, someone appears to have done just that, firing a round through the front window of the kid- and dog-friendly craft beer bar Rall and her team have operated in the Seattle suburb since 2016. The attack followed rising online furor among local right-wing groups about the drag queen story hour she’d scheduled for this past Saturday.

Brewmaster’s Taproom has hosted similar events for the past year and a half, eliciting just a handful of angry phone calls or emails, says the founder, speaking to Hop Take by phone. But in a sign of the times, this past weekend’s event drew “hundreds of phone calls, tons of emails,” and a bullet.

The stakes could not be higher, nor the urgency. Just last month, a shooter killed five people at Colorado Springs’ Club Q in an attack that appears to be motivated by the sexual orientation of the LGBTQ+ venue’s patrons and staff. (Incidentally, it was the co-founder of a local craft brewery, Atrevida Beer Company, who heroically helped take down the attacker.) It was a vile act of violence, with echoes of the hateful 2016 slaughter at Orlando gay club Pulse that claimed 49 lives. But given the right-wing punditry’s ongoing project to paint LGBTQ+ people as perverted political enemies of heteronormative American life, it’s unsurprising. The beer industry must take note. If right-wing activists are willing to call in bomb threats on a children’s hospital, harass parents at public libraries, and murder members of the queer community and their allies in private venues, they’ll be willing to do the same to a craft brewery — or worse.

Thankfully, at both Switchyard and Brewmaster’s Taproom, the crowds of community supporters who took up positions outside the businesses seemed to deter counter-protesters on the day of the events. “I think a lot of people drove by, saw how much support we had, and chose not to stop,” says Rall. In Bloomington, home to Indiana University and holder of a perfect LGBTQ+ rating from the Human Rights Commission, Cummings saw a few “‘Proud Boys’ or protesters, complainants, whatever you want to call them,” sitting in their vehicles outside the brewery, but that was about it. He’s relieved that the day wound up being “anti-climatic.” In Renton, Rall has a plate-glass window with a bullet hole to replace, which will cost her a paycheck this month. “It’s part of choosing to be a business owner, those are decisions you shouldn’t go into lightly,” she says.

Having stood firm with their communities in the face of their respective reactionary backlashes, I asked Cummings and Rall for their advice to peers across the craft brewing industry who may find themselves on the receiving end of attacks from the United States’ increasingly unhinged right wing in the future. Both emphasized that credible, specific, localized threats to staff and performer safety had to be handled with much more caution than the generalized vitriol flowing in from around the country. (As I’ve argued before, craft brewing workers who feel like their bosses aren’t prioritizing their well-being in decision making regarding drag events or anything else should unionize with the quickness.)

They also warned that right-wingers would try to to frame breweries’ decisions to host queer-friendly events as politically and financially self-serving. Conservative operatives tried to paint Switchyard’s event as a launchpad for Cummings’ “Democrat” political ambitions (he ran and lost a challenger campaign for state representative this year against an otherwise unopposed 12-year Republican incumbent, and characterizes himself as a political centrist), and alleged the shot fired into Brewmaster’s Taproom was a false-flag event orchestrated by Rall to drum up business (she denies this, noting the sales revenue from the event fell short of the cost of the window.) The concept of monetizing victimhood is a popular conservative fiction — “Soros hires protesters” et al. — and Republican foes in the craft beer business can expect similar attacks.

As far as tactical advice, Cummings says, “the No. 1 thing to do is develop a plan” for emergencies that might arise from that decision, from nasty phone calls to threats of immediate physical harm. Distribute it carefully, the former first responder tells Hop Take. “Share it with local [law enforcement] agencies, share it with the staff, share it with performers. Do not share it on the internet, because you don’t want the bad guys to know what you’re preparing.” Rall tells Hop Take that building community relationships — something many craft breweries already do in the course of normal business as both a moral and economic imperative — is vital. Being raised Jewish in Hawaii, a state where less than 1 percent of the population identifies as Jewish, taught her the importance of “supporting others, because everybody at some point in life is going to be in need of help and support.” “Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and your community will see that and be there for you,” she adds. Rall considers drag events a non-negotiable part of operating a local business, but cautions against craft breweries doing them as one-offs. “This is not just a flash-in-the-pan situation.”

Cummings agrees. “You need to take a deep dive into what your business’s guiding principles are, and what you stand for.” If being a “change agent” is part of a brewery’s mission, go forth — but know that change is hard, and its opponents violent.

This is an unfortunate but clarifying crucible for the industry. The progressive values so many craft breweries profess (and that most, I think, genuinely believe!) have never been this crosswise with such a volatile, violent sociopolitical force as the contemporary American right. Frankly, the industry has not always lived up to those values: Even after 2021’s “reckoning,” the industry is still mostly white and male, with transgressors being quietly welcomed back into the fold after making minimal amends. But what’s past is prologue, as they say. Now that the culture war rages right outside the taproom door, brewery owners, workers, and customers face a serious choice. Should they tone down their programming and support in the face of hatred and ignorance? Or make the emergency plans, invest the extra money on security, spend a few hours on a weekend to show up in force and safeguard their local queer communities and themselves?

Craft breweries of all sizes, in all markets, have long held themselves out as beacons of progress and bastions of tolerance. Now they must decide whether those things are truly worth fighting for — and if so, they must make clear-eyed preparations for the battle before it arrives.

Continue ReadingBloomington Drag Queen Story Hour Recieves Violent Threats

Sponsor’s threat to drop Pendleton Pride forces removal of drag queens from story hour

Rory Appleton & Rachel Fradette, Indianapolis Star

An Anderson nonprofit threatened to pull its support from this weekend’s Pendleton Pride celebration unless an event featuring drag queens reading to children was removed, forcing organizers to rearrange the story time plans to ensure the celebration could take place.

In a Sept. 22 news release, Intersect Inc. said it spoke to the Pendleton Pride committee and agreed to remain a sponsor “if the committee discontinues the queens reading to the children.”

“This is not something Intersect can support at this time,” the release read. “Intersect is a prevention agency. The mission is promoting, encouraging, and empowering our community for healthy living.”

It’s unclear why exactly the reading event prompted Intersect to want to back out. Intersect did not respond to a request for further explanation on why they wouldn’t support the event if drag queens were involved in the reading hour. Intersect was also a sponsor of last year’s Pendleton Pride festival.

The event, scheduled to take place noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 1 at Falls Park in Pendleton, is in its second year.

In a Sept. 23 Facebook post, Pendleton Pride acknowledged it would change its program by having LGBTQ community members host story time, not drag queens. The drag queens are still scheduled to perform a separate show at Pride.

“Sometimes progress comes fast, but most often progress is gained slowly and through intense conversations,” the post read.

The organizers explained that Intersect’s sponsorship included providing the insurance for the event, and there was not enough time to find a replacement. Without insurance, Pride could not go on, per Pendleton Parks Department rules. All events held at the park require liability insurance, Robyn Axel-Adams, one of Pendleton Pride’s organizers, said. Pendleton’s parks director could not be reached by IndyStar.

“We tried really hard to think outside the box and could we come up with some other things,” Axel-Adams said.

The group connected with Indiana Youth Group who aided in finding alternatives, offering to be Pendleton Pride’s insurance sponsor. But switching insurance companies last minute would have halted Pride altogether, Axel-Adams said, and they felt it was more important to find a way to have Pride.

“We didn’t also want the LGBTQ and allies community to feel that we had abandoned them that we had given up,” Axel-Adams said. “We fought.”

In statement, Intersect says its work has ‘no political agenda’
In a statement sent to IndyStar Thursday by Intersect’s Executive Director Karesa Knight-Wilkerson, the organization said it had much to learn from those for and against this event and its sponsorship. It’s unclear what prompted these additional comments, which mirrored a Sept. 23 post on the organization’s Facebook page.

“We are committed to further understanding all viewpoints regarding this as well as work with the LGBTQ+ community to educate ourselves,” the statement reads. “We are committed to our sponsorship and look forward to participating on Saturday.”

According to Intersect’s website, the nonprofit is a coalition of community stakeholders formed in 2002 to combat youth smoking in Madison County. Its focus has since grown to include combating alcohol and drug use among children. It operates with funding from two government grants: Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Agency (ITPC) and the Federal Drug Free Communities Grant.

The nonprofit said it viewed Pendleton Pride as a way for Intersect and other vendors to provide information on smoking and other health issues to the LGBTQ community, which the organization called “a culture that has been elusive to reach.”

“We must be equitable, meaning we have to support everyone where they are,” the organization said in its Sept. 22 news release. “It’s within the strategic plan to be involved with all groups and all that that may entail in order to provide prevention information on alcohol, tobacco/nicotine, and other drugs as well as mental health prevention messaging.”

It further emphasized that Intersect reaches out to all “with no political agenda.”

According to a study from the Office of Health Policy, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, LGBTQ individuals experience higher uninsured rates, are more likely to delay care or be concerned about medical bill cost and are less likely to have a usual source of care than non-LGBTQ people.

There is also a nationwide lack of health care professionals adequately trained in providing culturally competent care, the study noted.

Local church pushes for Pride’s end
At least one local organization has actively pushed for the cancellation of not just the story time but the entire event.

Life Church’s Pendleton campus put a call out to residents to oppose Pendleton Pride. Lead pastor Nathan Peternel verified a Facebook post from pastor Ross Steele asking for anyone upset with Pendleton Pride to join him at a Wednesday meeting held by the town’s Board of Parks and Recreation and voice their opposition.

“It’s really not a super shocking thing that people who believe in the Bible as the authoritative word of God would be opposed to such an event,” Peternel said in an interview.

The church is against sex trafficking and sexual abuse, Peternel said, adding that he was concerned about the children in attendance and that the event may be a form of “grooming,” a term often linked to abuse.

According to RAINN, grooming is a tool used by abusers to manipulate potential victims and coerce them into agreeing to the abuse. Nationally, misinterpretation of the term has been used against LGBTQ+ people, promoting an inaccurate stigma of inappropriate relationships with children in the community.

Peternel referred to homosexuality as “not healthy and not what God wants.” He added that all sex outside of marriage is a sin, and it was the church’s responsibility to remind the community of what is moral.

“That may sound archaic, but that doesn’t change God’s word,” he said. “I live in Pendleton, and I don’t want this here.”

Peternel said he was also concerned about “lewdness” in a public park.

At the board meeting Wednesday, Axel-Adams said members of the church did ask questions, but the parks board told attendees they have to remain neutral because it’s a public park. The event will still take place Saturday.

School district removed Pride flags
The forced changes to Pendleton Pride are not the first hurdle imposed on the local LGBTQ community in Madison County.

In 2021, students concerned over the forced removal of Pride flags from several classrooms at Pendleton Heights High School collected nearly 3,000 signatures on a petition asking the South Madison Community School Corporation. The district maintained teachers must remain neutral and not engage in political speech.

Reece Axel-Adams, whose pronouns are they/them, was a junior at the time and is the child of Robyn Axel-Adams. They told IndyStar in 2021 the flags helped classmates feel seen while at school.

“I remember walking by (a teacher’s) classroom, glancing at it and just being happy,” Axel-Adams said. “I knew we had an ally here at the school.”

They eventually spoke to the school board on behalf of the petition.

Superintendent Mark Hall stressed the district “celebrates all its students and does not tolerate harassment or discrimination based on any protected class” in an emailed statement to IndyStar in 2021.

Hall did not respond to an email inquiry sent Wednesday asking whether the district had an official position on either the drag story time event or Pendleton Pride as a whole.


Continue ReadingSponsor’s threat to drop Pendleton Pride forces removal of drag queens from story hour