Protesters met by counter-protesters outside all-ages drag brunch

Despite protests happening outside, an all-ages drag brunch event went ahead as planned Sunday in southeast Calgary. It happened the same day a similar planned event nearby was cancelled, with organizers citing threatening phone calls. 

Supporters of the drag brunch at The Attic in Inglewood bundled up to brave the frigid cold, as temperatures were around –20 C. Some of them stood outside to face off with people who opposed the all-ages drag show. 

After a heated exchange with one protester, Shane Chick said it was important for people to come together to support the LGBTQ2S+ community. 

“They’re literally stepping on our rights. This is our safe space,” Chick said. “This is where we come to feel safe. This is where our kids are now coming to feel safe. This is where our community has always come to feel safe, so when they show up, it threatens that safety, and … it’s shown deadly consequences before, and so we’re here to prevent that.” 

A man stands outside wearing black winter attire, sunglasses, with a rainbow flag draped around his neck.
Shane Chick, one of the counter-protesters, said it’s important for people to defend safe spaces for the LGBTQ2S+ community. (Tom Ross/CBC)

The number of protesters outside The Attic amounted to around a dozen people, and they were met by at least twice that number of counter-protesters.

Police also responded to the situation, although the service said no citations were issued, nor were any injuries reported. 

Fear of violence 

The protesters outside The Attic carried signs that accused attendees of “exposing” children to drag performances and “adult themes.”

The protest was part of a greater backlash to drag events catered to children. 

In recent years, libraries in Canada and the United States have hosted drag story hour events for children with the goal of fostering a greater sense of inclusion. 

But some far right groups have alleged that such drag events sexualize children or set them up to be groomed by sexual predators.
In several U.S. states, there have been disruptive protests at drag story readings.   

According to a report by GLAAD, an American LGBTQ advocacy group, there have been more than 140 incidents this year where protests and threats targeted drag events. 

For drag performers and establishments that host them, there is fear of violence. 

Fresh in the minds of community members is the shooting last month at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, where five people died and 17 others were injured.

The alleged gunman in that shooting faces more than 300 charges, including bias-motivated crimes. 

‘Creating safe spaces’

Sarah Soroka is the manager of Vegan Street Tacos, which is located underneath The Attic. The restaurant became a place for supporters of the all-ages drag show to take refuge from the cold.

“Being a queer person myself, obviously, this is something that’s very near and dear to my heart: creating safe spaces, inclusive spaces, things that incorporate our culture and the things that our community is really proud of,” Soroka said. 

The Calgary Police Service said it’s investigating the threats made against the other brunch, which was planned at the Royal Canadian Legion in Forest Lawn. 

Organizers of that event said that they’d received threatening phone calls earlier in the week and opted to cancel the show over safety concerns. 

No specific threats were reported against The Attic’s all-ages drag event, police said. 

Standing in front of parked cars, people in winter attire hold signs reading "Love Always Wins" and "We're here, we're queer, we will not live in fear."
Counter-protesters heavily outnumbered the protesters, and police officers also responded to help keep the peace. (Tom Ross/CBC)

James Demers, one of the supporters of The Attic show, said it’s disappointing but not surprising to see people come out opposed to them. 

“All of us have a family member like that, all of us have experienced this at some point or another,” Demers said. “What’s disappointing is people like that are so easily manipulated. It’s sad that they feel left out of community, but they’ve made that choice themselves.”

Inside The Attic, the all-ages drag brunch, titled Waffle-y Cute, was a far cry for the commotion outside. Patrons inside the packed restaurant cheered as performers, including children, put on a show. 

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