Chicago drag events for kids targeted by far-right groups

Chicago, Illinois - In a blue dress and wig, drag queen Muffy Fishbasket – Miss Muffy when performing for kids – opened the children’s book My Lucky Day, as a child yelled, "I read it!"

Muffy Fishbasket, also known as Miss Muffy, does book readings for children while in drag.
Muffy Fishbasket, also known as Miss Muffy, does book readings for children while in drag.  © Collage: Screenshots/Instagram/muffyfishbasket

"No way, don’t tell anyone the ending," Miss Muffy replied. "It’s a secret."

Miss Muffy narrated the story at Andersonville’s Midsommarfest in June, eliciting laughs and giggles from the crowd of children and adults, according to a video on social media.

Kid-friendly drag performances and story hours have been held in Chicago and some suburbs for years, particularly during Pride Week in June. The events, replete with colorful costumes and makeup, offer children a chance to see free expression and broken-down gender norms, according to those who host them.

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After a torrent of harassment was unleashed last week upon a suburban bakery that had planned to hold a family friendly Starry Night Brunch Drag show, community members came out in droves to support the bakery, and the show sold out.

But the performance was ultimately canceled after the bakery was vandalized with broken windows and hateful messages spray painted on the building.

Extremist groups target kid-friendly drag performances

Protesters march in support of LGBTQ+ rights and Black Lives Matter in Chicago, Illinois.
Protesters march in support of LGBTQ+ rights and Black Lives Matter in Chicago, Illinois.  © Natasha Moustache / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Though kid-friendly drag performances are modified to be appropriate for children – more akin to Disney than anything risqué – extremist groups have seized upon the events across the country as inappropriate and harmful to children.

"The severity of anti-LGBT rhetoric has increased substantially," said Emerson Hodges, a research analyst at Southern Poverty Law Center. "I believe this is not the end of this kind of behavior."

In Lake in the Hills, a town of nearly 30,000 in McHenry County, Uprising Bakery and Cafe was beset with angry calls and online reviews leading up to a family-friendly drag show planned for July 23, according to Corinna Sac, the bakery’s owner. Sac said people called workers pedophiles, spat on the bakery case, and even left a bag of feces outside the store.

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The bakery was broken into and vandalized the night before the show, causing it to be canceled, according to Sac and Lake in the Hills police. A GoFundMe fundraiser has raised more than $13,000 for the bakery as of Tuesday.

Police arrested Joseph I. Collins (24) of Alsip. He was charged with a class 4 felony hate crime and criminal damage to property with bail set at $10,000, according to McHenry County court records.

Collins was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, records show. He has been released on bond, according to jail records.

Experts say things are "getting worse"

Muffy Fishbasket serves as director of Chicago’s chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour.
Muffy Fishbasket serves as director of Chicago’s chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour.  © Screenshot/Instagram/muffyfishbasket

At least one far-right organization acknowledged on social media that it "blasted" the event online.

Naperville-based Awake Illinois on July 13 posted on Twitter an advertisement for the event with children ticket prices circled, saying, "They’re coming for your kids, McHenry County."

When targeting drag events, Hodges said the groups generally use language such as pedophilia and grooming, bearing similarities to language used by QAnon conspiracy theorists. He also said there is an "unprecedented amount" of anti-LGBT legislation, such as Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, likely fueling this as well.

"I don’t like the way this looks," he said. "It’s only getting worse."

"There is an element of danger now that you didn’t feel in the beginning," said Jacob Green, who performs as Muffy Fishbasket.

Green began doing kid-friendly performances several years ago, he said. Initially there was some pushback from the drag queen community about whether they should cater to more heteronormative crowds, but Green pursued it and said his first event quickly gained traction.

Green is also director of Chicago’s chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour, a nonprofit organization founded in San Francisco in 2015. It has chapters across the country that seek to provide "diverse, accessible, and culturally-inclusive family programming," according to its mission statement.

In Green’s performances, he includes a question and answer section, and some kids have asked why he wears "girl clothes."

"I say, they’re not, they’re my clothes," Green said. "It’s taking away these gender normatives that just don’t even need to be there."

Drag performers continue challenging social norms

Muffy Fishbasket said he experiences relatively few problems in the "blue bubble" of Chicago.
Muffy Fishbasket said he experiences relatively few problems in the "blue bubble" of Chicago.  © Collage: Screenshots/Instagram/muffyfishbasket

Green has fun performing for children, and by and large, Chicago as a "blue bubble" presents few problems, he said.

But he recalled once, while doing an event at a suburban library, being surrounded by women who gave him a pamphlet and asked him to think about his "life choices."

As a trans person, Hodges said he would have benefited from events such as the story hours as a child.

"We need more openness, more comfort around this topic, less censorship," Hodges said.

He said it can be detrimental to kids who see and absorb the backlash against these events.

"Trans and LGBT youth are at much higher risk for suicide and self harm, so when these events are shut down that is sending a message to children," he said. "You’re not protecting children by doing things like that."

Cover photo: Collage: Screenshots/Instagram/muffyfishbasket

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