In a world where angry adults scream at children outside a massive comic-book shop, one thing stands between joy and hate.
Behind those umbrellas is a growing group of volunteers called the Parasol Patrol. The patrol escorts children and their families from their cars into the monthly Drag for All Ages events inside Mile High Comics at the Denver-based franchise's 4600 Jason Street comics warehouse, shielding them from demonstrators demanding an end to the festivities.
“We’re not a protest. We’re not a counter-protest. We just want kids to get into the building,” says Pasha Ede, one of the organizers of the Parasol Patrol.
The need to escort kids became apparent from the first show, on March 3, 2019, which was organized by Chuck Rozanski — the owner of Mile High Comics, who performs and sometimes lives as Bettie Pages — and local drag queen Jessica La’Whor, who goes by Miss Jessica in this context. When they announced plans for a family-friendly drag show, complaints and threats rolled in. Some people pledged to boycott the store.
“We’ve lost their business," says Rozanski, who doesn't mind those customers going elsewhere. "We don’t want to sell things to people who hate.”
When Eli Bazan brought his family to that first show in March, there were fewer than a dozen protesters. But those who were there had graphic signs and yelled claims about how Miss Jessica and Bettie Pages were organizing an event designed to groom kids for pedophilia.
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Bazan understood that the kids — many of whom are transgender and queer — needed protection from the vitriol. He put his logistical training as a Marine to work and fixed on a tactic using simple, inexpensive tools: umbrellas and earmuffs. Volunteers joined the cause, Rozanski dubbed them the Parasol Patrol, and the project was born.
At each Drag for All Ages show, members of the Parasol Patrol hold umbrellas up to keep the families coming inside from having to see the protesters and use the earmuffs to block the screaming. It's an elegant way to prevent angry messages from reaching vulnerable ears.
Ede is Bazan’s partner, and they describe themselves as “queer AF.” When they were children, they yearned for supportive adults to combat homophobic bullying and affirm their identities, and they hope to provide today's youth with the same.
“We talk about how when we were younger, if we had had adults, grownups who were supportive, how different it would be,” Ede explains, and so they do what they can to show their support and block out the hate.
Outside Mile High Comics, protesters yell about how children are being sexualized at the show, but inside, the performances are downright wholesome. Adults might perform as Disney princesses. Young kids sing songs from their favorite movies. Some older teens bring a little more anger and angst to their performances, even reflecting on the events happening outside, Ede says.
“We give the kids a lot of freedom in their music choices and their performances, except we tell them the music, the dress and the performance itself has to be family-friendly,” Rozanski says. “We also request that parents or guardians accompany all of our performers. They decide what gender they want to represent; the kids decide what number they’re going to do. We don’t want them to do anything they couldn’t do in a public school, essentially.”
Each month, more and more people have showed up to protest Drag for All Ages. Outside the August 24 show, one faction of protesters wore helmets and brought shields and argued with anti-fascist counter-protesters. During the conflict, at least one person used pepper spray, says Denver Police Department public information officer Jay Casillas, adding that nobody pressed charges and no attacker was identified.
Despite the increased tension, the event remains overwhelmingly upbeat.
“The reason I personally do this is I want the kids to see — like I did not see — that there are adults who support them,” Ede says. “There are safe spaces where they can be creative and be supported.”
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The organizers also know that a monthly event can’t change everything in a young person’s life.
“We can’t shield kids from the world," Rozanski says. "There’s no way."
But with umbrellas, earmuffs and volunteers, the Parasol Patrol can create a safe bubble for them, if only for an evening.