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Clintonville school cancels drag-themed holiday event following planned Proud Boys protest

Proud Boy protest 12-3-22
Matthew Rand/NPR
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Members of the Proud Boys, a group known for hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ community, protested a family-friendly story hour featuring performances from drag queens, that was scheduled to happen at the Red Oak Community School.

A fundraiser for a local, independent community school was canceled after a planned protest from a group known for hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.

The event, a family-friendly story hour featuring performances from drag queens, was scheduled for Saturday morning at the Red Oak Community School.

This year, the event gained attention from a group with a presence in central Ohio that’s classified as extremist by the FBI and as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Known as the Proud Boys, the group made a post on social media indicating they were planning to protest at the event. The Proud Boys' post stated they expected the event to be “wild.” Columbus police also indicated they would have a presence at the event.

The school had planned to hold the event despite these rumblings, until, Saturday morning when they shared a message on social media announcing the event had been canceled.

School manager Cheryl Ryan said she had tried for a week to contact the Columbus Division of Police, leaving multiple voicemails about the threats they were receiving.

"After a week, I was told we could hire a special duty officer who may or may not show up because they're understaffed," she said.

Ryan also talked about what she called the "long documented and lived history of law enforcement doing harm to the LGBTQ community."

"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 read out planning group made the call to cancel," Ryan said.

The Columbus Division of Police issued the following statement:

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.

More than 500 people bought in-person or live-streaming tickets to the event, which was scheduled to take place at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Clintonville.

Jared Clayton Brown is excited to join the WOSU News team a decade into his journalism career, which has included stops in several markets including Louisville and Atlanta.
Matthew Rand is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher.