Five Proud Boys, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun, intimidated children and parents attending a monthly all-ages drag event inside a wine and tea shop in Salt Lake City, Utah on January 20. The event’s organizers have temporarily paused all future performances to plan a response and ways to ensure attendees’ safety.
The monthly event, entitled “Bes-Teas” and hosted at the Tea Zaanti shop, features drag queens performing to Disney songs. Its producer, local drag queen Tara Lipsyncki, said the regularly sold-out event is family-friendly, contains neither swearing nor sexual content, and in no way resembles a nightclub show.
Nevertheless, Proud Boys — dressed in black camo and face masks — stood outside the shop in freezing temperatures for all three hours of the event, calling attendees “groomers” and saying they should be ashamed. The venue’s co-owner Scott Lyttle called police after one of the Proud Boys allegedly yelled at an 8-year-old attendee, Lipsyncki said. Police questioned the protestors, told them to stop using their megaphone and told them to remain on the sidewalk.
“We’re not here to impede on people’s way of life,” one anonymous Proud Boys member told The Salt Lake Tribune, adding that his organization only protested because children attended. “You would never bring a kid to a strip club. Why would this be any different? Sexualized women dancing in front of boys — this is a man dressed as a woman dancing sexually in front of children.”
“I believe a lot of things affect children, whether it be a drag show or a scary movie, children are impressionable,” he added. “When we start to blur the lines between good and bad, men and women, it starts to become an issue because then laws start to get passed … it just gets real messy.”
The protester didn’t say whether he also leads armed protests outside of cinemas where minors see scary movies. The Proud Boys — whose members commonly engage in misogynistic, Islamaphobic, transphobic, and anti-immigration rhetoric — have increasingly protested drag events alongside other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
Numerous adult attendees told the aforementioned publication that they came to support the queer community and show their kids the performers’ love and creativity.
Lipsyncki called the protest “nerve-wracking for the adults” but said the children seemed to enjoy themselves.
“What’s worse, you scaring a child with a gun, or me pantomiming Be Our Guest?” the performer wrote on Instagram. “If you’re going to spew hate, at least do it openly without hiding behind a gun and a mask.”
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In a follow-up Instagram post, Lipsyncki wrote that the protest demonstrates that “the fight against queer youth… is escalating past empty online threats to the intent to cause physical harm.”
“While this makes the mama bear in me want to fight harder and stand my ground on the importance of all-ages queer events, it is simply not safe or fair to put other people, especially children, on the front line with gunfire,” Lipsyncki wrote.
She said future Bes-Teas events have been temporarily paused while organizers figure out a way to respond to protesters while ensuring the safety of all involved.
“This is not the end of our show or our mission to support queer youth in any sort of way,” Lipsynki wrote. “This is a strategic decision about how to best move forward and win the war against hate. Because don’t be mistaken, this is a war — there is blood on these Proud Boys’ and MAGA people’s hands.”
Last August, the same venue received hateful messages and bad online reviews from out-of-state trolls after the anti-LGBTQ+ social media account LibsOfTikTok posted a video of a young girl at a Bes-Teas performance dancing with a drag performer to the Oscar-nominated Disney song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”
Comments said the performers were “doing the devil’s work” and “abusing children for their pleasure.”
Lyttle said [he and his co-owner wife] were called “child abusers, groomers and disgusting perverts,” according to the Saly Lake Tribune, and were even compared to alleged child sex trafficker, the late Jeffrey Epstein.
The dancing girl’s father, August Wachter, told the Tribune that his daughter, who suffers from anxiety, opened up and bravely ran up to dance with the performer. He also said there was nothing remotely sexual about the dance.
“The fact that she was able to get up there with total strangers, be brave enough to do her thing, it was heartening for us,” he said.
“The actual grooming that’s happening is on the other side, where all these people are grooming their kids to hate other people because of how they dress and who they love,” Watcher said. “As parents, we’re trying to raise our kids to be good, respectful human beings for everyone around them.”