Protesters and counter protesters came dressed for a fight, but there was no violence outside the Drag for All Ages show on September 29.
Mile High Comics owner and event co-founder Chuck Rozanski – who also goes by Bettie Pages — expressed frustration with both the protesters and their opponents on Sunday, because the conflict detracts from the event's focus on supporting LGBTQ youth.
Statistics suggest many transgender youth could use that extra support. According to a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality 40, percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide. Of those attempts, 92 percent were made before the age of 25.
But protesters claim Drag for All Ages introduces children to sexual themes that are not age-appropriate and criticize the fact that young people perform in the shows.
The claim that the event isn't family-friendly is wrong, Rozanski explains. In creating their acts, all of the artists are told they cannot do anything that would be unacceptable for a performance at a public school.
Volunteers with the activist group Parasol Patrol stood alongside Rozanski, creating a barrier between those coming to see the show and the loud protesters — whose comments were occasionally graphic and obscene.
In pointing out the factions lining the street, Rozanski let out a sigh.
Roughly two dozen people had come to protest the show, with about the same number counter-protesting.
Those who objected to the show on religious grounds set up a portable speaker system across from a parking area.
"This is a very sexualized event," a protester yelled into the microphone. Behind him, others waved signs that said "Sexualizing children is not love," and "Shut it down. Child drag is child abuse."
At least three men in opposition to the drag show wore helmets and carried shields; one displayed a knife on his hip. Six protesters wore the yellow-banded black polo shirts the Proud Boys claim as their uniform. The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified the Proud Boys as a hate group.
Across 46th Avenue from the protesters, counter-protesters gathered behind anti-fascist banners. Most wore bandannas over their faces and rainbow arm bands. Two counter-protesters wore helmets — one of which was clearly a repurposed bicycle helmet. Other than small cans of pepper spray, they appeared to be unarmed. When members of the Parasol Patrol passed by, the counter-protesters cheered and applauded.
More than a dozen police stood between the rival groups of protesters.
The scene was intimidating for some families trying to get inside. An Aurora mother named Jasmine brought her three children to the event to support a family friend. Jasmine asked that her last name not be used out of privacy concerns.
"It's unnerving, because you don't want to bring your kids somewhere unsafe," Jasmine said, sitting inside the venue.
Members of the Parasol Patrol met her family about half a block away from the store's entrance. The volunteers shielded Jasmine and her children with umbrellas, until they were behind a barrier of gay pride and American flags. Behind the flags, the protesters were almost inaudible, as an eight-piece band played upbeat music.
Jasmine's children didn't hear any of the accusations of pedophilia that had been shouted by protesters throughout the afternoon, she said.
Her daughter remained excited for the performance.
By the time Jasmine's family crossed the protest lines, the Proud Boys weren't using their bullhorns to protest the event, but were instead trading insults with counter-protesters.
Just after 6 p.m., one of the counter-protesters holding a banner that read "We bash back" yelled at the protesters, "Event's still on, guys; you failed again."
Inside, families sat at tables set with bubble gum and Girl Scout Cookies.
The event's co-producer, Miss Jessica, took the stage in a long black dress and a sparkly red and black robe.
"Thank you first and foremost to all of you for coming through that," she said, gesturing toward the street.
There, a handful of religious protesters and their speaker remained. A few counter-protesters shouted back at them.
Inside, Bettie Pages lip-synched to Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy."
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