Statement from Cheryl Ryan, School Manager, Red Oak Community School, regarding the cancellation of the Holi-Drag Storytime Event
I wanted to take a moment to speak to everyone who purchased tickets to our event and to everyone who put so much time and effort into making this event happen.
I stand here in this space where our school’s parents and members of the church so beautifully decorated last night. We borrowed trees, some of them from our kids’ bedrooms who let us borrow them.
We built a photo booth. We have festive lighting. And we put together a stage ready for our performers. Their books were chosen, holiday dance numbers were choreographed and students spent all week baking and making decorations. It turned out perfect, better than we had imagined.
I’m here on this empty stage because in the end there was a disagreement about how this community should be best protected.
There is a long documented and lived history of law enforcement doing harm to the LGBTQ community among others that continues to this day: ignoring, defaming and abusing LGBTQ persons, most especially those who are Black and trans.
As even a cursory google search will illustrate, it is no secret that extreme right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys, enjoy a cozy relationship with law enforcement. When the Proud Boys stated they would show up to intimidate and harass and bully our attendees and organizers, we had to make a decision about how we were going to keep everyone safe. I spent a week calling our police department and leaving voicemails about the reports we had seen. After a week, I was told we could hire a special duty police officer who may or may not show up because they are understaffed. I was given an e-mail address.
In the meantime, a trusted community defense team with years of experience reached out with an offer to execute a thorough safety plan, including before and after event safety support, tech support, emergency plans, and a large on-site presence, all on a volunteer basis. They are members of the LGBTQ community who have a personal stake in ensuring this community’s general safety. They gathered almost 200 people ready to create a perimeter shield and a barrier far from our building to keep things deescalated outside. We took them up on their offer.
Local media ran articles – without calling me to ask for comment – yet insinuating that we were working with the police, who assured journalists that they were aware and monitoring this situation. In reality, the police had offered nothing and were not in touch with us. A community liaison had returned a phone call and he told me he’d be out of the office next week so “if that’s a problem, I don’t know what to do about that.”
The City Council made a statement in which they offered reassurances that they were in touch with the police who were monitoring the situation and will work to ensure that the event can occur peacefully. We were never contacted by the City Council about their statement and still had no word from CPD.
Yet I received hundreds e-mails, calls and messages from folks in the community asking, “How can I help? What can I do? I’m ready to show up.”
I never heard this message from the city’s leadership and those whose job it is to protect us.
In the end, our performers felt unsafe without a police presence, while our safety team felt unsafe with a police presence.
We decided it was not safe to proceed and our Red Oak planning group made the call to cancel. While we felt strongly that the police’s casual distant acknowledgement of our event illustrated that they would not keep us safe, we also have to validate that our performers did not feel safe unless there was law enforcement in the building.
So it turns out, our biggest problem wasn’t the Proud Boys after all.
I implore this community’s leaders to consider how this would have gone differently, how they could have participated differently, how they could have supported us differently, how they would do better for the next drag story time when the Proud Boys threaten to show up again, which they will. How will our leadership work to create an environment where all members of our community feel safe?
Those who might say, “But you have to work with the police” are invalidating the lived experience of all who have had harm done to them by law enforcement and don’t feel safe with them. They are not standing on principle. To dismiss those who feel unsafe with the police is to turn a blind eye to the systemic issues of safety within this community.
We have to do better. The world is getting more and more unsafe for the LGBTQ community. The attacks are constant and getting worse. The fact that we are not able to successfully host this simple event shows the extent of the damage. We have to do better.
Everyone all over the country who purchased tickets in solidarity: thank you so much. We felt your support. We sold almost 1,000 tickets to a children’s story time event after all. We raised over $5,000 for a local LGBTQ charity. We had more than 200 people attending this event in person, despite being scared.
We’re scared but we’re strong and we will not go away or make ourselves smaller because someone bullied us. Please keep hosting these events in your communities. Keep marching. Call your legislators. If you are a cis, het, white ally, use your privilege and step up. Show up for this and other marginalized communities. Don’t allow your advocacy to exist on social media platforms alone. Do the work.
Thank you to the hundreds of people who have put so much of your time and resources into this event. You were willing to show up and do the work, and even though we weren’t able to make this happen at the last minute, the outpouring of support in the face of extremists means something. Please continue to show up.
Thank you for joining me this morning. Please hit up a drag show tonight and tip your queens.