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Drag brunch in Chardon met with support, limited protest

As expected, protestors stood in Downtown Chardon in opposition to the drag brunch hosted by the Community Church of Chesterland Saturday.

A few dozen protestors stood across the street from Element 41, the restaurant partnering with the church to serve the brunch, but a larger group of supporters of the drag brunch stood in front of the restaurant.

“It’s really disgusting to see so much hatred,” said someone who wanted to be identified as “Moose,” who went to Chardon from out of town to support the restaurant. “It’s gross and it’s sad, and more than anything it’s just pathetic because they make no sense... what they’re saying.”

Rev. Allen Harris from the Christian Church Disciples of Christ.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Rev. Allen Harris from the Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

Nothing turned violent outside the restaurant and protestors were almost entirely gone before the second brunch service started at 1:30 p.m.

The church was victim of an arson attempt last weekend. That along with weeks of harassment regarding the drag events scheduled this weekend prompted the church to encourage counter-protestors to stay away from the conflict for safety reasons. Still, the church’s Rev. Jess Peacock appreciated those who showed support.

“It still makes me feel good to see people follow their consciences,” Peacock said. “We have a line of clergy that’s supporting us as well, which is just so heartening.”

Rev. Allen Harris, a regional minister for the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, said he was there to be a sacred buffer.

“I think that is part of what Jesus Christ calls me to do. I saw in the scriptures him standing up for people who were the least, the lost, according to society at least. And if he’s going to do it, I better do it,” Harris said. “I’m glad to be celebrating the joy of drag performance.”

"What the heck? Leave them alone," John Sapola said after learning about the protest of the drag brunch.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
"What the heck? Leave them alone," John Sapola (left) said after learning about the protest of the drag brunch.

John Sapola from Burton approached Rev. Harris to ask what the gatherings were all about. After learning about the drag brunch, he said people should be allowed to do whatever they want.

“Go ahead. What the heck? Leave them alone,” Sapola said.

A man from Alliance was arrested Friday morning for the arson attempt at the church, which Peacock said was a relief.

“We hold no ill will toward this individual. We forgive this individual, but we do want to see this person prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, if only to send a message to someone else who might be thinking about bombing a Jewish synagogue, a mosque, another church, in order to sort of get their way,” Peacock said.

A group of about a dozen people marched into Downtown Chardon with matching military-like uniforms, which included face coverings and confederate flags on their sleeves.

The lead marcher declined an interview request but did call the group the Patriot Front, adding it was not a Proud Boys group.

Jack Reppart was one of the loudest protestors who came from Southington, Ohio, and he spoke in a bullhorn.

“This is a Christian nation,” he said at one point on the bullhorn.

“A loving father will point out the mistakes and try to encourage people to do better,” Reppart said. “This wouldn’t have been tolerated 20 years ago. Our world is getting worse and worse.”

One of four drag performers during the Element 41 brunch.
Maria Iannucci
One of four drag performers during the Element 41 brunch.

Tara Ramey from Ashtabula came to give religious messages saying this drag event was a sin.

“We weren’t trying to cause division. If you’re true Christian, a true Christian, you do it with love and you show them the love of Jesus,” Ramey said.

Mike Kromer, a protestor from Warren, called the arson attempt at the church sad.

“Violence isn’t the answer. We’re just here to spread the word and tell them about Jesus,” Kromer said.

Reppart, Ramey and Kromer were adamant that they were not a Proud Boys group.

Chardon resident Aya Ruann, a supporter of the drag events, wasn’t afraid to cross the street interact with protestors.

“I support Jess and everything he does. He’s a kindred spirit to me,” Ruann said. “I just want people to be more accepting and tolerant.

At one point, Ruann stood side by side with Kromer, with opposing signs. The wind knocked Kromer’s sign out of his hands, and Ruann helped trap the sign to keep it from flying away.

Aya Ruann and Mike Kromer with opposing signs.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Aya Ruann and Mike Kromer with opposing signs.

“I don’t agree with a lot of things people do, but I’m nice to them,” Ruann said.

Element 41 owner Paul Mendolera said brunch goers enjoyed themselves and seemed unbothered about the commotion on Main Street.

“It’s almost as if there was nothing going on outside,” Mendolera said. “Everybody was coming together for one common goal and that was to support the LGBTQ community of Geauga County.”

In a rush while leaving the first of two brunch services, one patron said it was a lot of fun and yelled to supporters in front of the restaurant, “Keep it peaceful. Keep it respectful. Don’t engage.”

Miles Davis Matthews, a Kent State graduate student form Washington, D.C., attended the second drag brunch. While it didn’t have the same protest outside as the earlier brunch, Matthews said no protest would keep him from attending.

“It was a great show. It was cool to see the queens unshaken by what was happening outside,” Matthews said.

Matthews’ partner is one of the drag performers for today’s events. He said he would be attending the drag story hour event later in the day at the Community Church of Chesterland.

Law enforcement from around the region, not just Chardon, was on duty watching for anything outside of the brunch.

“We’re just glad that they’re here to do their jobs, which is keep people safe and allow groups of people who are traditionally already oppressed to allow them to have what makes them happy without the threat of being hurt over it,” Peacock said.

The Chesterland church hosted a drag story hour later Saturday afternoon and had tight security measures and law enforcement on site.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.