Dozens of people rallied on Granville Island on Tuesday to support a local theatre’s drag camp for kids, drowning out a small group of protesters who believe drag and children don’t mix.
The Carousel Theatre for Young People’s four-day Summer Drag Camp aims to help interested youth express themselves through clothing, makeup and performance, according to its website. It’s offered to youngsters between seven and 11 years old.
“I’m happy to be standing with so many other people in support of children, drag as an art form, theatre, and the LGBTQ community,” said Jozy Patterson, a supporter and member of the union that represents the theatre’s stage technicians.
“It’s literally just art like anything else is, like how comedians can do children’s characters in movies and then go do adult TV shows the next day.”
Tuesday’s rally was organized by the local chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees of the United States and Canada (IATSE). Julie Wiebe, a member of Local 118’s Pride committee, said the union wanted to bring “people power” to a “huge project” that’s being taken on by a smaller company.
“It’s our job to support artists and anybody who walks into the theatre, and we just want to continue supporting the community,” Wiebe said.
“We shouldn’t have to come out. It should be the most normal day ever.”
For the past few months, the Carousel Theatre for Young People’s staff have received threatening emails and phone calls related to the drag camp. In May, it even held two fundraising events to help pay for extra security during the program.
At the time, a spokesperson said the messages included “relentless” death threats, physical threats, harassment, and “vitriolic hate.”
“It’s been really difficult for our staff, who are champions and they are exceptionally good at producing incredible programming for young people. It is not part of their job to deal with hate messaging,” Carousel Theatre board president Jocelyn Macdougall told Global News on Tuesday.
“We’ve ended up having to dig into our budget in ways we weren’t planning for, but it was critical and important that we continue to offer these incredible programs that families want, that children want, but that we do it in a way that’s safe and protected.”
Drag events — including library story times and brunches — have increasingly become the site of protests across the country. According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes against the 2SLGBTQ+ community have also increased, with those targeting sexual orientation spiking 64 per cent between 2019 and 2021.
Some of those protesting the Granville Island camp on Tuesday held signs that read, “Gays against groomers,” or suggested the T and Q, which stand for trans and queer or questioning, should be clipped out of the acronym, LGBTQ.
Protester Ian Glass said he feels more people are against the exposure of children to drag performers than are willing to speak up about it.
“What I want people to know is that we are not one unified community. I’m a bisexual man and I absolutely do not approve of this,” he said in an interview.
“I do not think children should be at Pride events, I do not think we need to sexualize children for entertainment and I want to express my dissent.”
Michelle Fortin, co-chair of the Vancouver Pride Society, said children can be curious about drag the same way they’re curious about any art form, including acting — which is precisely what drag is.
“This is about arts. This is about kids accessing art. These are not families that were put under duress to come to summer camp,” she said. “They’re here because they want to be here. Happy Pride!”
Editor’s note: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled Julie Wiebe’s name.