A drag storytime event in Ohio was canceled Saturday after members of far-right groups gathered near the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, where the reading was scheduled to be held.
The "Holi-Drag Storytime," which was organized by Red Oak Community School, was set to feature three drag queens reading to children of ages and performing a "few holiday numbers."
According to The Associated Press, 50-70 members of the Ohio chapters of the Proud Boys and the Patriot Front stood along the roads leading up to the church, touting guns, tactical gear, and face masks that obscured their identities. Protesters chanted "life, liberty, victory" and "reclaim America," among other slogans, and some are seen giving a Nazi salute, according to footage recorded by Brendan Gutenschwager.
The groups had previously posted their plans to protest the event to the messaging app, Telegram.
Cheryl Ryan, school manager at Red Oak, delivered a tearful statement from the stage where the event was supposed to have taken place. Ryan said the cancellation occurred due to disagreement "about how this community could be best protected."
"I spent a week calling our police department and leaving voicemails about the reports we had seen," said Ryan. "After a week, I was told we could hire a special duty officer, who may or may not show up because they're understaffed."
"In the end our performers felt unsafe without a police presence, while our [community] safety team felt unsafe with a police presence," Ryan said, explaining that even with continued efforts by the community to secure proper protection for the event, they were unable to reach an agreement with local police.
In a statement posted to Facebook, the Columbus Police Department called Ryan's statement "incorrect," writing that they'd had multiple face-to-face meeting with organizers from both the church and the school to devise a safety plan.
"CPD pulled together resources from several units to make sure we were present, including officers from our bike patrol and dialogue team, the statement read. "Even though the event was canceled, 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," the post continued.
According to Ryan, the school "sold almost 1,000 tickets" for the "Holi-Drag," which had raised more than $5,000 for a local LGBTQ charity.
A small group of counter-protesters also attended the event, and held rainbow and transgender flags to show their support, according to more video from Gutenschwager.
LGBTQ organizations in central Ohio had asked counter-protesters to abstain from any action in advance of the event. According to Columbus LGBTQ outlet, The Buckeye Flame, a coalition of groups issued a statement saying "this situation is potentially volatile and dangerous and, the safety of the children, families, performers and our community, are of paramount importance and our actions must be in service to their protection."
The Proud Boys is a far-right organization, and has been referred to by the FBI as an "extremist group with ties to white nationalism," according to a leaked internal document. Their founder, Enrique Tarrio, has been in connection to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
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