Supporters of drag story hour in Cleveland outnumber protesters, uplift families attending
Inside Near West Theatre in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District Saturday morning, people attended a drag story hour, which the theater regularly hosts.
But outside of the theater, several dozen people sang and danced carrying rainbow umbrellas to shield people walking in out of the theater from a small group of people across the street protesting the drag storytelling event.
Nina Aust from Broadview Heights came to the drag event with her family.
“These people are willing to stand in the rain to make sure that you are shielded from hate. That’s really beautiful,” Aust said. “People that I’ve never met, just making sure that my daughter and my wife and I were safe coming to this."
Three drag performers – Veranda L'Ni, Zoey Zegai and Dakota Cox – read books, played games and sang children’s songs, such as the “Hokey Pokey.” Children attending went home with free books courtesy of the theatre.
The crowd outside sang nursery rhyme songs, such as “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” as families with children entered and exited the theater.
“It’s incredible to have that support, and I’ll be honest with you, if I didn’t have that support I wouldn’t know what to do,” Near West Theatre Executive Director Michael Obertacz said.
Obertacz was adamant that he would not cancel the program Saturday and has more drag story hours planned.
“I can’t stop doing this. The LGBT community is under assault, and not enough people are standing up for them,” Obertacz said.
The effort to welcome theater-goers with music and umbrellas was organized by Paula Kampf and her grassroots organization Angels in Action.
“Our community is about love and diversity and creativity, and children shouldn’t be traumatized by Nazis or Proud Boys or other protesters who are against those things,” Kampf said. “You have to meet hate with love.”
A dozen or so protesters stood across the street from the theater holding signage, most of which had religious messages. Ahead of the drag event, flyers circulated online with anti-LGBTQ+ messaging calling for protest of this event.
Tom Hach was one of the protesters in Gordon Square.
“What consenting adults wants to do, that is their choice. But when it comes to trying to influence minors, I believe it is absolutely wrong, and frankly it does not allow us to put the foundations in place to sustain our society,” Hach said.
The theater had added security for the drag show, including bomb sniffing dogs. Several police officers surrounded the block and made efforts to keep the protesters and the crowd welcoming families on opposite sides of the street.
After the show was over and the families went home safely, the supporters met with the drag performers.
“If I could give a piece of my heart to each and everyone of you I would. Unfortunately it’s hidden underneath this,” drag performer Zoey Zegai said, while gesturing to her outfit. “Y’all are the reasons that make Cleveland magical, and I’m so grateful for each and everyone of you.”