This past Sunday, an all-ages Halloween event hosted by Redwood Pride — a DreamMaker project of the nonprofit Ink People — drew a vibrant and diverse crowd of revelers, but it also attracted a group of about a dozen protesters who confronted organizers and attendees, aggressively accusing them of “grooming children” and being pedophiles.
The event, which was held at the Jefferson Community Center in Eureka, featured a drag show, in which performers dressed-up, danced and lip-synced to pop songs. This element of the festivities has been the focal point of protesters’ outrage both at the event and in the days since.
Angry and homophobic posts on Craigslist and social media sites have accused Ink People of being “perverts” and “sickos” who are guilty of child abuse and openly support “homosexual grooming of children.” Other posts have gone even further, listing the address and phone number for Ink People and issuing calls to “run them out of town.”
Monica Topping, administrative director at Ink People, told the Outpost that the organization’s office received roughly 40 phone calls in the first 90 minutes she was there this morning. The one caller she
spoke with heard on voicemail used the same verbiage, Topping said, threatening to run the organization out of town.
Officers from the Eureka Police Department were present at Sunday’s event, and Topping said she has kept the department apprised of the intimidating comments and phone calls since.
“They’re accusing us of being pedophiles and child molesters,” said Topping, who described herself as an unapologetic supporter of LGBTQ rights.
Redwood Pride Director Æpryl Nikolai said the protesters’ rhetoric seemed to rely heavily on a set of false notions, “such as that all drag shows are hyper-sexualized, explicit and profane, that it was sexualizing children, that it was grooming or indoctrinating them into being Queer in some way, and that being Queer in general is wrong.”
The history of drag dates back to ancient Greece and includes everything from Shakespeare plays to Milton Berle, Benny Hill and, of course, RuPaul.
Nikolai said that while the protesters on Sunday were sometimes aggressively confrontational, only a couple of interactions got physical.
“One was that one woman (protester) tried to kiss an older male attendee,” they said. The other instance involved a protester lunging at an attendee with a camera, which led to a bit of back-and-forth pushing, “but the police put a quick stop to that,” Nikolai said.
In a published statement, Queer Humboldt Executive Director Lark Doolan said the protesters showed up to terrorize attendees and cause a public disturbance.
“These people came within inches of our faces, holding cameras, screaming words like ‘pedophile’ and ‘groomer,’ accusing us of mutilating the genitals of children, and claiming that they were there to protect our children from us,” Doolan wrote.
Unfortunately, this type of incident isn’t unique to Humboldt County. Across the country, right-wing provocateurs like Christopher Rufo and alt-right groups such as Proud Boys have deliberately stoked hysteria about drag shows, targeting pride gatherings, public library readings and private businesses with harassment campaigns.
A bakery owner in Illinois, for example, had her business vandalized, received threatening phone messages and was followed in her car after announcing plans for a family-friendly drag brunch, Vice reported. Up in Eugene, homophobic protesters “doxxed and attacked an 11-year-old for playing dress-up” earlier this week, according to reports from Salon and Eugene Weekly.
Nikolai told the Outpost that a number of folks representing the queer community have scheduled a meeting on Monday with members of the Eureka City Council, Eureka Police Chief Todd Jarvis and Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery.
Doolan said Queer Humboldt is hosting an all-ages “Heart Circle” tonight via Zoom. He explained that a Heart Circle is “an inclusive space where we share what is in our hearts, and are witnessed in speaking our truths.” Details for the event can be found on the community events calendar at queerhumboldt.org.
Below is Doolan’s statement about Sunday’s events (reprinted with permission).
Some of you are aware that the beautiful, family-friendly Halloween festival hosted by Redwood Pride this past Sunday was interrupted by a hate group. We, at Queer Humboldt, don’t generally bring attention to this aspect of our community experience, but there are times when posts like these are necessary and now is one of those times.
In the history of LGBTQ Pride events in Humboldt County, we have had protesters before, though not so much in recent years. These people were different. They weren’t holding signs and peacefully expressing that they disagree. They were screaming hateful, bigoted, cruel things while standing next to a playground where our children, wearing their Halloween costumes, were playing.
These people came within inches of our faces, holding cameras, screaming words like “pedophile” and “groomer,” accusing us of mutilating the genitals of children, and claiming that they were there to protect our children from us. All of this, right in front of our youth.
When anyone spoke to them, they escalated matters exponentially. They were not there with love in their hearts. They were not there to peacefully protest. They were there to cause harm. They were there to terrorize us and cause a public disturbance. For approximately two hours their screams of vitriol could be heard from across the park.
One of these people, who was screaming with extra fervor, yelled that for two years, in a previous era of her life, she was partnered with a woman. Another man expressed being gay but having spent the last couple of years trying not to be.
While it is easy to meet hate with hate, especially when people are actively causing us harm, we must also remember that at least some of these haters are deeply wounded members of our own community. Let the suffering of that statement touch your heart. Hurt people hurt people. This is not a simple story of us vs. them. The enemy is not these people. The enemy is fear and ignorance.
We won’t win by fighting these people back, meeting them head on with our hurt and anger. That will only fan the flames of hate. Instead, let’s move into hope, educating ourselves and each other about how to build a world where diversity is not merely tolerated, it is valued.
In moments like this, we, as a community, have a long, rich queer history to draw from. The Two-Spirit Teachings weekend we just had included many helpful teachings. The video from Friday’s lecture will be posted in the coming weeks. Check it out. We can all learn a lot from Indigenous ways of knowing and being.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were there on Sunday, embodying the teachings of our queer ancestors (thank you, Sisters, for your magnificent service to our community on Sunday and beyond). Your fierce and playful loving support is an inspiration.
And then there is Heart Circle. Heart Circle is a core practice of the Radical Faeries, a spiritual non-movement rooted in the knowledge that we, as queer people, will never experience liberation by trying to fit into heterosexual, cisgender norms. Heart Circle is an inclusive space where we share what is in our hearts, and are witnessed in speaking our truths. This technology is similar to how Indigenous people around the world have gathered in circles in perpetuity.
In light of the events on Sunday, Queer Humboldt is hosting an all-ages Heart Circle [today] (Thursday, Oct. 27th) at 7PM via zoom. 2S/LGBTQIA+ community members and our loved ones (allies, parents, friends, partners, coworkers, etc.) are invited to participate. Given the intimate nature of this space, we ask that cameras be on. …
We know there is hate, but love is stronger. We look forward to seeing you [tonight]] in heartspace.
CORRECTION: This post originally stated that Humboldt County Sheriff Billy Honsal would be in attendance at Monday’s meeting with Eureka staff and council members. He will not. The Outpost regrets the error.