Well over 100 counter-protesters came out to The Brewmaster’s Taproom on Saturday, anticipating bigotry and possible violence from anti-LGBTQ+ protesters. But in the end, many signs were held, many Pride flags were waved, many songs were sung and a local drag queen read Christmas and holiday-themed books to children.
In the week leading up to the Brewmaster’s monthly Drag Queen Story Time with Sylvia O’Stayformore, a Facebook post from a now-deleted conservative Facebook page planned a “call to action” protest of the drag story time event, which was then canceled after a still-unidentified person shot a ball-bearing projectile into the Taproom’s window on Dec. 7.
“The first thing I did when things started to blow up on Tuesday was to reach out to [Sylvia], ” The Brewmaster’s Taproom founder Marley Rall told The Reporter last Thursday. “Her response was ‘let’s do this.’”
Despite the cancellation of the protest, a counter-protest spearheaded by Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera went ahead as planned on Dec. 10, just in case something were to happen to disrupt Drag Queen Story Time.
And thankfully, nothing did.
Counter-protesters — both LGBTQ+ members and allies — were ready with signs, chants, a marching band and medic kits two hours before the story time hour was scheduled to begin on Saturday, which was around the time the original protesters were initially planning on disrupting the event.
As the rain came down and more counter-protesters joined the crowd, the marching band began to play songs like “Stronger Than You” from “Steven Universe” and “Thank You For Being Friend” from “The Golden Girls”, two television shows that are very popular in the LGBTQ+ community.
Solidarity and community permeated through the crowd, but some anxiety remained over protesters possibly showing up armed.
In 2019, a similar protest and counter-protest was held in Renton at the Fairwood Library during the last installment of a four-part Drag Queen Story Hour during Pride month.
It was reported that many members of the paramilitary militia the Three Percenters — who told The Reporter that they were there as security for the protesters — were open-carrying pistols and that some protesters were holding signs covered in “drag erotica” up to childrens’ faces as they exited the library.
“We’ve always done [Drag Queen Story Time] outside but we will be moving it inside,” Rall said before Saturday. “You don’t want anybody filled with that hate to win, but you also don’t want kids to be traumatized.”
A few counter-protesters traveled to the event from Everett, one ally being Alexis Cogan, who said that she was a little worried, but showed up to support the LGBTQ+ community. “My daughter is asexual and we know a lot of trans folks,” Cogan said.
Another ally who came to the counter-protest was Chimenne Lautensoager of Renton.
“I’m just happy that The Brewmaster’s is still going through with this,” she said. “We showed up to show that we won’t be intimidated.” Lautensoager, who has 20-year-old trans daughter and a 17-year-old lesbian daughter, said that her family had been allies long before her daughters had come out.
Another Renton resident who came out to support the counter-protest and LGBTQ+ rights was Ben Oliver, who said that he wasn’t worried about any protesters showing up. “No, it doesn’t bother me. We’re not gonna back down,” he said.
Oliver and his family have been patrons of The Brewmaster’s Taproom since it opened back in 2017 and his two sons Cooper, 8, and Smith, 3, regularly attend Sylvia’s Drag Queen Story Time.
When asked what he likes best about Sylvia’s story time, Cooper said “I like that you can have a different personality and not be judged.”
As the counter-protesters readied themselves outside, the inside of The Brewmaster’s Taproom was business as usual.
People were enjoying craft brews and pizza from the Pizza Time nearby, kids were watching cartoons in the side room by the Taproom’s large T-Rex skeleton and Sylvia O’Stayformore was preparing for Drag Queen Story Time.
“This is what Marley stands for and what she represents, being welcome and inclusive,” said Brewmaster’s employee Chase Bublitz who served patrons throughout the evening.
The clock finally ticked 4 p.m., and children, their parents and others in the venue quieted down for story time to begin, as the counter-protest continued outside. There were no signs of protesters in sight.
The first book Sylvia read was called “Little Blue Truck’s Christmas,” followed by “Merry Christmas, Little Elliot” and then a reading of the classic poem “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” Sylvia read six more books as the hour ticked on and by the time she had read “Olive The Other Reindeer” and sang “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” twice, the majority of the crowd outside had left and any would-be bigotry had stayed away.
In late November, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) reported there have been 124 protests and significant threats against drag events in the United States in 2022.
According to the report, the majority of anti-drag and anti-LGBTQ+ protests and threats were during Pride Month in June, which then led into the fall months. “The analysis shows increasingly violent rhetoric and incidents as the year progressed, including the firebombing of a Tulsa donut shop that had hosted a drag event in October,” the report stated.
A few months ago, Sylvia spoke to The Reporter about her monthly Drag Queen Story Time and Bingo events in Renton, along with her thoughts on past disruptions of drag events by conservative groups and the far-right extremist group, the Proud Boys. Sylvia had said that that kind of element is always going to be there.
“You just can’t be afraid of it. I don’t want to sit at home doing nothing,” she said.
As for the future of Brewmaster’s Drag Queen Story Time, it will continue each month.
“The more kids experience things that they don’t usually experience, the more they will be open-minded and empathetic to people and open to diversity in all its forms,” said Rall. “The thing we need most is understanding in this world.”