The following is a collection of full statements from parties involved in the Holi-Drag Storytime event that was canceled on December 3.
- Statement from Red Oak Community School (12/3/22)
- Statement from Columbus Police Department (12/3/22)
- Statement from Mayor Andrew Ginther (12/3/22)
- Statement from Columbus & Central Ohio LGBTQ+ Leadership Roundtable Steering Committee (12/4/22)
- Statement from Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus Director of Administration (12/4/22)
- Statement from Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus (12/5/22)
- Statement from The Community Defense Team (12/5/22)
- Statement from Red Oak Community School (12/5/22)
Statement from Red Oak Community School (12/3/22)
“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.”
Statement from Columbus Police Department (12/3/22)
“The Columbus Division of Police is aware of a statement made earlier today about our involvement in the Holi-Drag Storytime event. Unfortunately, what was said about our involvement is incorrect.
CPD learned about this event through Facebook and immediately reached out to the church and the school. A face-to-face meeting took place with all parties on November 18th to talk about the event and a safety plan. The school did request a special duty officer, but cancelled that request on the same day of the meeting.
During this week, CPD continued to communicate with the church, school, neighbors, and businesses in that area to inform them of our safety action plan. The school and church were consistently involved in those discussions through email and phone calls. CPD was told by the school that we could have plainclothes officers outside the event, but not inside the building for they had hired their own private security. CPD pulled together resources from several units to make sure we were present, including officers from our bike patrol and dialogue team. Even though the event was cancelled, we still had personnel and officers in the area to make sure all parties were safe.
The Columbus Division of Police protects all residents of the city equally. We have had several meetings with the LGBTQ community and continue to work together in partnership to make sure they feel supported and protected at all of their events.”
Statement from Mayor Andrew Ginther (12/3/22)
“I stand fully with our LGBTQ+ neighbors, and I condemn any and all efforts to intimidate, harass, threaten or cause harm to any member of this community.
Earlier today, an extremist group known as the Proud Boys staged a demonstration outside of an event intended to be a family-friendly program. The Proud Boys is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, regularly espousing extremist, white-nationalist ideologies and beliefs that stand in stark contrast with who we are as a city. That is why we took this threat so seriously from the very beginning, and that is why we began developing a safety plan weeks ago.
When the City of Columbus was first made aware of the intent of these groups to have a presence at this event, the Columbus Division of Police immediately began working in close coordination with the organizer of the event, Red Oak Community School, the host of the event, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, and LGBTQ+ community leaders to ensure that a security plan was in place to allow the event to occur peacefully and without interruption.
These ongoing communications between the Division of Police and the event organizers began on Friday, November 18, and continued through today, when the event was intended to take place. As a result of these many conversations, a safety plan was developed that included coordination between the Columbus Division of Police and a private security firm that is owned, operated and staffed by LGBTQ+ community members. This safety plan was agreed upon and supported by the Central Ohio LGBTQ+ Leadership Roundtable which, in a statement issued on Wednesday, November 30, indicated that, “LGBTQ+ community leaders have been in conversation with Red Oak, local security professionals, local law enforcement, and Mayor Ginther and have confidence that they are taking this threat very seriously. They have a strong commitment to the children’s and our community’s safety and we have confidence in their ability to address this situation.”
On Monday, November 28, I met with members of the Central Ohio LGBTQ+ Leadership Roundtable, which is made up of leaders who represent each of the organizations serving the Columbus-area LGBTQ+ community. Over the course of our conversation, Police Chief Elaine Bryant, Officer Shawn Lutz and Lt. Justin Coleman outlined the Police Division’s robust plans to respond to any potential threat to today’s event. During that discussion, our community’s LGBTQ+ leadership expressed support for and confidence in the safety plan that we had developed in coordination with the event organizers.
Yesterday, on Friday, December 2, the organizer of the event indicated that they no longer wished to partner with the private security firm and police tasked with protecting the event. As a result of this abrupt change, the event performers indicated that they no longer felt safe to participate in the event. Shortly thereafter, the event organizer announced the cancellation of the event. Despite the cancellation, Columbus Division of Police officers and personnel were onsite today to ensure safety at the site and throughout the surrounding neighborhood.
Our Division of Police, working in close coordination with the LGBTQ+ community, invested significant resources to ensure that this event could take place peacefully and without disruption. It is very unfortunate that the event was canceled, and we will continue to uplift and support the LGBTQ+ community moving forward.”
Statement from Columbus & Central Ohio LGBTQ+ Leadership Roundtable Steering Committee (12/4/22) (12/4/22)
The cancellation of the Holi Drag Story Hour event today is unfortunate. The performers and Red Oak Community School, the organizers of the event, all went to a lot of work and put a lot of love into creating a fun, festive family event. We honor that work.
Statement from Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus Director of Administration (12/4/22)
“The event was canceled when the performers felt a lack support from the event security team and could not resolve those issues the night before the event.
As to the statement from Red Oak, after an initial period of trying to determine which law-enforcement entity to bring in, and difficulty getting thru to Columbus Police through their phone channels (as she describes), we did have the meetings and communications described by the city and CPD statements.
To be clear, the Columbus City Police, Homeland Security and other law enforcement worked with myself and the church and Red Oak over the past month to coordinate activities and were here on the ground yesterday managing the protest, enforcing our property line and checking in with us all morning.
Uniformed officers, dialog team officers, and HS detectives were present and many others ‘on call’. They were very clear that the Proud Boys and other assorted armed and frightening protestors were the problem here.
CPD and Homeland Security continue to provide background support for us and future activities. The report from Red Oak is not accurate (although it is a perspective about policing that I don’t entirely disagree with). Please, please don’t forward or pass on without the context. Keeping lines of communication open between us and law enforcement is particularly important in times like this.”
Statement from Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus (12/5/22)
“We are aware that there is a lot of confusion pertaining to the various statements coming out about the Holi-Drag Storytime event. We want to share with you what we know.
The Storytime was cancelled late Friday night after many discussions with stakeholders. (First UU Staff did not learn about this cancellation until Saturday morning.) We are deeply saddened that this event had to be canceled, but we support the school in making this difficult decision.
This was a very complicated and difficult decision, but was made to protect everyone’s safety. What ultimately led to the cancellation of this event was a series of disagreements on how to best protect the space, performers, attendees, and the LGBTQIA community. When it became clear that an agreement could not be found the school made the difficult decision to cancel.
We have seen the school’s statement, and the responses from the Columbus Police Department and Mayor’s office after the school’s statement was released. We, as the church, of course have our own understanding of what happened with communications, and are having conversations with those involved to better understand where communication broke down, and how we can prevent that in the future.
While, like all things, there are more perspectives than people involved, hearing that we all have the same goal of protecting this community and not allowing hate groups to continue spreading harm is encouraging and we intend to hold all parties to their word. We hope that we can move forward and that further conversations can be had and that priority can be given to better protecting and supporting the LGBTQIA community here in Columbus.
There were many, silent partners who worked diligently to help Red Oak pull off a safe event and we want to thank you for the time and effort that you put in and your obvious love and support for not only the LGBTQIA community, but for all marginalized communities.
We also want to say thank you to the detectives and officers, including officers trained in de-escalation, who were here Saturday to make sure that Red Oak and First UU staff were safe while we were in the building.
Part of the complexities of systemic issues is that we often find ourselves holding conflicting realities. Systems tend not to be wholly good or bad. These are artificial distinctions designed to continue dividing people into “us” and “them.” But as long as a system supports and values harm of any community, it is our responsibility to challenge the status quo and continue fighting to ensure that harm does not continue.
As a staff, we began our day having a dance party with the Red Oak students, and shared in hot cider and hot chocolate. We also spent a lot of time debriefing this morning and will continue those conversations. We plan to review steps and actions that were taken, learn from our mistakes and lean on what we did well. We want to thank you for being a community where we can do this messy, uncomfortable work together.”
Statement from The Community Defense Team (12/5/22)
“We are the volunteer collective who collaborated with Red Oak Community School (ROCS) to provide community defense. We are made up of community organizations, community leaders, protest support entities, and community members. We will refer to ourselves as the community defense team (CDT) in this statement. We only make decisions about our internal operations and not any event or space we are providing safety for. Our work is centered on community defense and safety, not protesting or counter protesting. Our statement below hopes to provide clarity, understanding and a pathway of unity and healing.
We are devastated about the cancellation of the Holidrag Storytime Event that was to be hosted the morning of Saturday December 3rd. We are deeply sorry that through all of the time and energy put in by the school, parents, drag queens, church, our safety team, and more were not able to see our efforts come to fruition. We deeply believed in the goals of this event and sincerely wanted the show to go on for the children. There were so many beautiful decorations put together by Red Oak Community School (ROCS), the parents of children, and the drag queens involved. All had very special plans in store for the day. We recognize all of the emotions and energy put into this event by all parties, but especially the queens who had active threats coming out against them in the weeks before 12/3. This cancellation was a tough decision for everyone involved and we are all very hurt by the way that things have turned out.
The Community Defense Team (CDT) assigned to protect the Holidrag Storytime Event on December 3rd is made up of various community organizations and safety leaders across Ohio and various neighboring states. All of our efforts have involved active communication and collaboration with ROCS from the beginning of our work two weeks ago. All of our plans went through a rigorous approval process from ROCS staff and the school board. The First Unitarian Church was aware of our detailed safety plan as well. Every party involved was made aware of our plans (which did not include the involvement of CPD) and our team held multiple meetings where concerns could be heard.
There are a few false narratives around the event and it is our hope that we can offer some clarity from our perspective on the events leading up to Saturday. The notion that we joined last minute and that we were not actively involved in the planning of the event is categorically false.
On November 10th, an organization involved in the CDT was contacted about hosting a table at the event, and again on November 15th about being a beneficiary to the fundraiser the school was hosting associated with the event. The organization responded expressing gratitude and stated that because we know police don’t keep us safe, the organization asked ROCS to utilize a Community Defense Team onsite on 12/3 rather than a police presence. At that point, there was a team of around 27 people ready to participate in this event, and many more on standby as we awaited the school’s consent for a CDT.
On November 17th, ROCS mentioned that they would be requesting special duty officers to be present during the event. In the organization’s response to this, we provided a more drawn out safety breakdown for the day, detailing the team’s vast experience with providing security measures for high risk events and our knowledge of white supremacist antagonizers and terroristic groups. We asked then that the school clarify with Columbus Police on what law enforcement’s response plans were for the day, as previously the school had been told by Columbus Police that the they could hire a single special duty officer — who wouldn’t even be required to show up due to them being “horribly understaffed”.
By the 18th, ROCS was in agreement that the CDT’s plan would be more appropriate for the day and requested a full meeting with the CDT and the event organizing team.
On November 22nd, three members of the CDT met with representatives from ROCS and outlined our experience and our perspectives on how to keep the event as safe as possible. This was the beginning of a transparent, honest relationship between the CDT and ROCS event organizers. There was never any single organization or individual calling the shots – all the decisions were lead by the desires of ROCS with safety support and resources from the CDT.
Over the course of the following two weeks, a robust community defense plan came to life. Due to the potential for safety issues in the future, and in preparation for future events where we are called to keep our community safe, we did not publicly discuss the defense and safety plan for 12/3. We intentionally did not share these plans publicly, such as on social media, in order to be secure from the state and fascists that are actively monitoring us. Naming who is involved in this effort doxxes us and puts us at higher risk of being surveilled by the state and by fascist groups – and we would never want to put our collective members at risk. We also never want to be known for doing this work, we just want to do it because it’s what needs done. We further have explicit community agreements that require this confidentiality. If any of us were to share the information being asked of us publicly, we would be putting everyone’s lives in danger.
What we do feel comfortable sharing is the following.
The main purpose of CDT’s presence at the 12/3 Holidrag Storytime was for community defense, not to counter protest the Proud Boys and other fascist groups. Many of the individuals and organizations involved in the CDT do not engage in counter protests with fascists for clear safety reasons and our goal was to provide protection for the families attending the event and the performers. Keeping kids and the drag performers safe was our main objective.
By 12/2, the Community Defense Team had organized a nearly 200 person team of volunteers who were prepared with our plans for the day and ready to be on the ground. The plan implemented the use of upgraded security systems for the school, strengthened the school’s perimeter barriers, artwork, hydration and food, and so much more. On the day of, everyone entering the church premises would be vetted and verified. Only vetted ticket holders and volunteers would be allowed on the premises and we worked with ROCS to ensure this was done in a comprehensive way.
On the afternoon of Friday December 2nd, the CDT was contacted by our team on the ground and ROCS because an unknown vehicle with two people entered the parking lot during school hours. This alerted CDT members on the ground and they followed protocol to keep the premises secure. The 2 individuals identified themselves as a local security firm who had been requested by the performers.
It is important to note that this took place during school hours and the individuals with this security team did not contact the school to let them know they were coming. Because of this, a core member of the CDT went to the school to talk with them. They stated they were there to do a walk through of the building, asked for detailed access to our security plans, and informed us that they were working closely with CPD. We had previously stated we would NOT work with this team due to their contracts with CPD and ICE. This was known and understood. However, the performers hired this team and would only communicate with the school. Thus, the core organizing CDT member on the ground felt we did not have a choice but to work with this team or not have performers the next day. As our priority was the event, a CDT member made the decision to give a brief overview of our plans for the day and then gave a tour of the exterior of the building, but could not tour the interior due to school hours. It was then understood that we would have the security firm protecting the Drag Queens while on the premises and their police escort would remain out of the building and off school premises but nearby. We felt we came to an understanding.
Due to the sudden shift in plans, we again requested a meeting with the performers. They again would only talk to the school and were still upset that police would not be on school grounds. Ultimately, the Drag Queens decided to pull out of the event all together, despite conceding to all of their requests except to allow CPD on the property. Soon after, the school decided it was best to cancel the show.
We want to be clear, we are not saying the reason for the event being cancelled was the fault of the performers. We simply could not come to an agreement on community safety in the end. We hope that is clear.
Soon after the event was cancelled, it came to our attention that one of the drag queens was on a live stream through a social media platform discussing the reasons for withdrawing from the event. We always want to give space for people to express themselves in their spaces, however we believe it is important to note that the livestream doxxed an organization and an individual organizer who was not to be publicly known and shared safety plan details. Sharing these incredibly sensitive and critical plans the night before the event and hate groups arrive in our city was very dangerous for all involved.
We wish it had been different and hope that moving forward we can foster a relationship of trust, love, and understanding. We are grateful for the performers willingness to put their lives on the line for the sake of the children’s joy, despite the escalating mobilization of hate and terror. This is exactly why we were willing to be involved: We believe in the strength of this mission and we sincerely wanted to make the storytime a success with minimal safety concerns to the children, families, school staff, church members and event organizers.
Moving forward, we are open to having leaders of our collective meet with leaders of the lgbtqia+ community for further and future understanding. There are significant details we cannot reveal online for everyone’s safety. We aim to continue being a resource to provide an alternative option to safety for those who feel more comfortable without police presence. In that, we want our community to understand all that we can provide. We ask we have these conversations with love and respect with the purpose of coexisting in nontoxic ways so we can be in the best positions to support each others work. We think mediated conversations is healthy for our collective healing. We embrace St Paul’s principles for organizing which is why we’d like to have these important detailed conversations offline. We look forward to a future of unity and belonging for us all.
The Community Defense Team”
Statement from Red Oak Community School (12/5/22)
“First we want to thank everyone who worked to make this amazing event happen, and give some history about Red Oak Community School. We are a small, independent K-5 school in Clintonville, Ohio. We have been solely operating on tuition from loving parents, fundraising from our community, and the passion of our educators. We offer a learner-centered approach to education dedicated to cultivating joy in learning, fostering self-confidence and agency, and preparing students to be environmental stewards and champions of social justice. This is the core of who we are.
We utilize a shared governance model, designed to share the management of the school primarily between parents of currently enrolled students and the staff employed by the school. This is a family school full of people that care about our mission.
The reason we are having this discussion is because our annual Holi-drag fundraiser was picked up by some groups who disagree with how we do things. Accordingly, a slew of counter measures had to be put in place due to threats placed on the event, performers and kids. As educators and parents, we had to do everything in our power to protect our kids, our performers and ourselves. We do not feel we did everything right, but this isn’t about us.
Let’s focus on why we are here and what we are trying to accomplish. Everyone has the right to be treated fairly and justly and exist happily. It is our duty as educators and parents to equip our kids to realize their full potential. This event helps us accomplish that, while fostering social justice, creating social awareness and nurturing empathy for others.
We will put on another drag story time event, in the full light of day, in-person and with transparency regarding the overall safety plan between our performers, our attendees, and city leadership. We will request a meeting with the Columbus & Central Ohio LGBTQ+ Roundtable to discuss how they could actively support this effort and to create a plan regarding what we can all do better to provide an environment that feels safe and welcoming to ALL families who wish to participate. We will be reaching out this week to schedule that meeting. If this happened in one of the best cities in America, we know others are also dealing with similar issues. Let’s be an example of how to get this right.
At Red Oak, we teach our children to use their voice and stand up to oppressive forces, take risks in challenging norms that harm vulnerable communities, reflect on steps taken, acknowledge where improvement can be made and do the work with others to make those improvements. With this, we offer to do the work. We ask, who will join us?”