When an anti-LGBTQ bigot tried to disrupt a recent family-friendly drag event at Ohio Pride, he wasn’t expecting the performers’ and crowd’s amazing response.
Drag queen Starlett O’Hara (birth name Robert Dennick Joki) said that when she began announcing the next performer at the Rust Belt Theater’s family-friendly Kids Show at Youngstown Pride this month, a man in his 30s with a megaphone and a video recorder walked through the crowd of 300 people and approached her. The man called her a “pervert” and accused her of “grooming” and “indoctrinating” children — a line oft-repeated by anti-LGBTQ Republicans.
“My first instinct was to tackle him,” she wrote on Facebook. “I did not. My second instinct was to scream back at him. I did not. I have been doing theater for children for over 25 years. As a performer I am always hyper-aware of my audience and what I consider to be APPROPRIATE, especially when it comes to young people.”
Mindful that the young audience members might learn from whatever she did next, Joki instead began singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, Judy Garland‘s iconic song from The Wizard of Oz.
“It’s a song my Nana used to sing to me, probably the first song I ever learned all of the words to,” Joki wrote. “It has always been a source of comfort for me when I needed it, and in that moment it was there for me once again.”
Joki said the man grew more enraged and began to come closer to her, screaming to the crowd of children that she was a “monster.”
” I was terrified, but I was determined not to show it,” Joki said. Then, something amazing happened. One-by-one, her fellow drag performers joined her onstage to link arms and sing the song alongside her. Then, the crowd joined in, singing in unison.
“Together we drowned his message of HATE with our message of HOPE. He had a megaphone, but I had a family,” Joki wrote. She added that he was eventually run off — not by parents, not by security, but by queer and nonbinary teenagers.
“They were wearing pride flags as capes, like the heroes that they are,” she wrote.
Joki then went backstage and cried, composed herself, and later continued on with the show. Though she says she has experienced “brutal” anxiety and nightmares from what happened, the incident showed her just how important drag performances and family-friendly queer events are.
Such events are especially important considering that Republicans have introduced over 300 anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures over the last year. While most of these bills have targeted transgender youth and their families, some Republicans have threatened to introduce bills that would criminalize the presence of children at drag events.
This month, Texas state Rep. Bryan Slaton announced his intention to file a bill that would ban drag shows in the presence of minors. He has claimed that “drag shows subject underage kids to inappropriate sexual content by adults.” Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon also said he supports “severe criminal penalties for adults who involve children in drag shows.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also implied he is open to prosecuting adults who take their kids to see drag shows. His press secretary, Christina Pushaw, has said that anyone who opposes the state’s law banning LGBTQ content in classrooms is a “groomer.”
While these politicians may just be using children and LGBTQ people to rile up their voting base, their language distorts drag shows and endangers performers, queer people, and allies.
Most drag events attended by children feature lip-sync performances, sing-alongs, and storytelling by performers in colorful costumes and makeup. The performers teach kids about self-acceptance and caring for others who may look or love differently than they do. These events don’t “sexualize children” as conservatives claim.
Right-wingers have called in bombing and death threats to venues that hold family-friendly drag events. Over the last month, Proud Boys and anti-LGBTQ kooks have disrupted family drag events in California, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas. Such protesters sometimes infiltrate the venues, frighten the kids and their families, and threaten to dox any adults recorded at the events.
“By the end of the [“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”],” Joki wrote, “the darkness was gone, banished by the light. By progress. By the future.”
“I was always taught that the only way to fight hate was with love,” Joki told The Buckeye Flame. “That is definitely what we did here. And it worked.”