RENTON, Wash. — The Brewmaster's Taproom in Renton said it will go on with its Drag Queen Story Hour despite the harassment it received and the harassment other story hours have received nationwide.
Marley Rall, founder of The Brewmaster's Taproom, said the kid and dog-friendly taproom has been serving the community for seven and a half years, often holding events to build community and fundraise for causes supporting children and animals. Over the past year and a half, a Drag Queen Story Hour event has also become a monthly staple.
"I'm, in general, a huge fan of drag," Rall said. "I'm jealous of the amount of confidence they exude and I also understand a lot of what happens comes from pain and for me, it's important that we build a very inclusive space for everybody and for everybody to feel they can be their true authentic self and so a big thing for me with the LGBTQIA community is that I want them to know we're an ally and we're trying in all different ways to be that and one thing I really feel hinders people is when they live and are raised in a very closed situation."
Rall says she grew up in Hawaii where she was exposed to diverse cultures and grew comfortable around all different types of people.
"The more kids interact and have good, positive interactions with people who may be considered different than them, and that they don't get to see on a day-to-day basis, they have the opportunity," Rall said. "It's good to get to know other people, and there's nothing scary about it. And so that was the big push for me as far as Story Time goes. We want people to know it's okay to be different and we can be supportive and inclusive and be comfortable with that."
Rall said over the past year and a half, the taproom has received a routine amount of phone calls and emails taking issue with events. But recently, Rall says word began to spread of a protest planned outside this weekend's installment of the event. It attracted attention on social media, and Rall said the taproom began receiving an influx of insults and threats.
On Wednesday, the Renton Police Department (RPD) said the window was damaged "with what appears to have been a BB or pellet gun." RPD says it took a case report and is waiting for video from surrounding businesses in hopes of identifying suspects. Rall said the taproom still plans to hold Saturday's event.
"You're willing to put up with what you have to put up with to create this space for people to be themselves and have fun and for kids to just be kids and enjoy themselves," Rall said.
RPD said it has been watching the social media traffic surrounding the event and plans to have "elements of our Civil Disturbance Unit there out of an abundance of caution." A spokesperson said while RPD will allow people to peacefully perform their freedoms of expression, it will be on hand to prevent any potential violent activity.
Rall says she considers herself an ally and feels a personal responsibility to stand with the LGBTQIA community. She was raised Jewish and understands the importance of solidarity.
"We have family we lost in the Holocaust and for us a big thing, especially because we didn't have a big Jewish community in Hawaii was, oftentimes you have to rely on others to stand there with you when you don't have enough of your own," Rall said.
Rall said she understands some families that routinely attend the Drag Queen Story Hour events may not feel comfortable coming this weekend, and she wants to make sure they know that's okay.
"We've been very open with the situation, each time we let people know what the temperature is this month, and everyone I've talked to still plans to come but for those that don't this time, we'll still be here," Rall said. "These people will move on and find something else to be upset about next month but we will still be here. We will still be a part of our community, we will still be holding events that make sure everybody knows they're loved and if they don't have family we can be their family."
Drag queen headlining story time event sad, but not surprised at negative reaction
Sylvia O’Stayformore has been reading to kids for two and a half years. Sylvia said the Brewmaster’s Taproom owner started the event as a counterprotest to those opposing drag story time at public libraries.
“I'm just there to hopefully let them experience someone reading to them and I'm a character and they think I'm approachable,” said O’Stayformore.
O’Stayformore said they experienced negative social media comments and even a protest last month, but things escalated this week.
“We invite everybody, but if you don’t want to go, don’t go. It’s not like we’re forcing you to do it,” said O’Stayformore.
O’Stayformore said now more than ever it’s important to show up Saturday.
“Don't stop. I know it's scary but if we stop they've won. We’ve just got to keep going with our lives and keep being creative and spreading love and acceptance throughout the community because it’s a better and higher way of thinking,” said O’Stayformore.
This comes as similar threats are happening across the country. GLAAD reports this year there have been 124 cases of protests or threats targeting drag events in 47 states.
Advocates at Seattle’s LGBTQ+ Center said these threats come as people in the community are becoming more visible.
“It tells queer people, especially that we don't belong in spaces that are public that we don't belong in community spaces, and I think that that sends a really harmful message to LGBTQ young people,” said Sam Choi, training and technical assistance coordinator at Seattle's LGBTQ+ Center.
Seattle’s LGBTQ+ Center has a lot of LGBTQ youth programs including a drop-in center which is a safe space, has an access to change program to help LGBTQ people of color navigate the justice system and a youth book program.
“I think it's important to note that track storytime also is happening in conjunction with all the book bannings that are happening across the United States and what that actually means not just for queer people, but for people of color for people who aren't cis heteronormative,” said Alayna Josso, librarian and resource coordinator at Seattle's LGBTQ+ Center.
Advocates with the organization said the threats to the taproom are an unfortunate reminder that things like that can happen even in a welcoming city like the Seattle area.
“Even though we don’t want to live in fear, we're always vigilant and are very aware of our safety. We teach each other that in the queer community always, you know, be safe, find your family, know where you're going, let people know,” said Jasso.
“It's a really violent time and place that we live in, and it's really reminiscent of a lot of things that are still happening, but it's really important that we get to sit and exist and continue to liberate ourselves,” said Indigo Magenta, the youth advocacy program coordinator at Seattle’s LGBTQ+ Center.
O’Stayformore is sad, but not shocked by the incident, and said it’s a reminder for the community to not be complacent, and is calling for no violence Saturday.