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When the fascists came to Wadsworth, Ohio

‘Bombarded with the most hateful things’

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A group of activists hold rainbow umbrellas to protect a Drag Queen Story Hour in D.C. on March 18. (Washington Blade file photo by Linus Berggren)

Matthew Asente wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived at Memorial Park in Wadsworth, Ohio. His wife first heard about the gathering on Facebook. A charity Drag Queen Storytime, organized by local Aaron Reed, whose proceeds would go to victims of the Club Q massacre in Colorado Springs. Recently approved by Wadsworth City Hall, the event’s location was moved from Wadsworth Brewing Co. due to violent threats. Nonetheless, Matthew thought it was important to attend alongside his son, because he wanted “to try and make sure our kids are being raised with the right values.” Matthew knew there’d be counter-protesters, predicting a smattering of “10-20 people,” mostly “locals from our town.” But this image was shattered when Matthew was confronted by an attendee, who warned him not to bring his son to the park. The stranger gave one reason: “there are literal Nazis down there.” 

Asente’s guide wasn’t exaggerating. The images that would eventually arise from Wadsworth were shocking. Hundreds were attending the event, with right-wing cells having a considerable presence, including a coalition of far-right groups, ranging from the Proud Boys to Patriot Front and White Lives Matter. Most notable among them were the “Blood Tribe,” Neo-Nazis clad in black and red, who chanted “Sieg Heil,” and shouted racial slurs. The situation quickly descended into violence, as members of the far-right coterie clashed with the “Parasol Patrol,” a LGBTQ group used to defend attendees at events like this one. Two would eventually be jailed because of an altercation, with three unrelated medical emergencies, and three pepper spraying incidents, adding to the chaos. Pasha Ripley, who co-founded Parasol Patrol, recalled the counter-protesters “following us while we escorted kids to their cars.” Asente remembered how, as he and his son entered the pavilion where the storytime was held, they were “bombarded with the most hateful things.” They were “chanting about the final solution,” which created “a sense of tension throughout the entire day.” 

After the events of March 11, the counter-protesters tried to distance themselves from their Neo-Nazi compatriots. One of the counter-protest’s primary leaders was Kristopher J. Anderson. Formerly a candidate for the Ohio statehouse, he lost to Democratic incumbent Tavia Gulonski, and has since re-branded as a grassroots activist.  Anderson amplified the protest on social media, writing, “all hands on deck this weekend,” and “arrive early if you can,” on March 8, four days before the story hour. “If you care about children, it is your duty to show up,” Anderson Tweeted on March 9. 

Repeatedly, Anderson has referred to the presence of Nazis and white supremacists  as an unwelcome surprise. “No normal person wants to see Actual Nazi’s in Medina County or on this earth in 2023 or ever,” he wrote on Facebook after the event, later replying to an outraged commenter in another post that “Lumping in normal anti-groomer protesters with crazy people, white supremists, and Nazi’s,” is “unacceptable.” Anderson echoed this sentiment to the media. “We weren’t all on one side,” Anderson is quoted as saying by the Columbus Dispatch. Despite publicly lambasting the Nazi attendees, protest organizers shared a different view on Telegram. Messages from a private Telegram channel obtained by the Washington Blade show counter-protesters saw the Nazis as a nuisance, but a useful one, which could be used to intimidate their enemies as anti-LGBTQ policies are institutionalized.  

“Just let the Nazis handle the pedos while we try to pass legislation,” wrote one user. Speaking about White Lives Matter, a self-identified Proud Boy noted “using those guys as part of the push for legislation,” can be “just as effective,” as demonizing the drag events themselves. Though the same user admonished Blood Tribe as “cringe,” they applauded them for having “stressed out and demoralized PP (Parasol Patrol).” Yet another poster wrote, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” telling their fellow users to “have some fun with the Nazis showing up.”

Likewise, cross pollination between the 18+ Get Rid of US Telegram Channel and the message board of Project 171 — populated by members of the White Lives Matter chapter, and avowed Nazis — is frequently shown. “I’m one of the lead admins for WLM (White Lives Matter),” noted one user on Project 171’s public chat. Another  user shared an  image of a blonde woman holding an assault weapon dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Regardless, the Project 171 channel’s administrator promoted his group on 18+. “Don’t forget to join the Project 171 chat,” the administrator wrote. Although organizers tried to spread misinformation about the Nazis’s origin, the Project 171 administrator was more honest. “Aaron didn’t have the Nazis come. They got invited through WLM.” Kristopher Anderson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Unity among extremist sects against the queer community was an outcome of the Wadworth rally noted by Ford Fischer, a freelance documentarian, made famous by his coverage of Jan. 6 and the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. No matter the minor ideological differences of factions like The Proud Boys or Patriot Front, on March 11, they were “all on the same side of this issue.” Only 36 hours away in Columbus, Ohio, a collection of hate groups led by the Proud Boys rallied against a drag story hour organized by Red Oak Community Schools, holding a victory rally after the event was canceled. According to Fischer, the “presence of a common enemy has been more effective than anything else in recent history.” Relating Wadsworth to his experiences in Charlottesville, Fischer diagnosed Unite the Right a failure, and the “common cause of protesting Confederate statues,” insufficient to prevent far-right infighting. Unlike Wadsworth, where the far right showcased a united front. “This event, that happened Saturday, fulfills the goal of the people at Charlottesville,” Fischer said. 

 Similarly, the topic of drag queen story hours has gone from a fringe issue on the right discussed by the likes of Alex Jones to a prominent talking point. Anti-drag bills have been introduced in 14 states since the passage of Tennessee’s law prohibiting drag performances in public, or where children may be present. Unsurprisingly, violent threats against drag performers have also increased, with GLAAD documenting 141 incidents of anti-LGBTQ threats targeting drag events. Aaron Reed, who conceived what would become the story hour in Memorial Park, believes conservative pundits are complicit in the violent actions and rhetoric wrought by hate groups. “Fox News is basically doing this,” Reed said, describing the alt-right as merely “following their lead.” Matthew Asente shared Reed’s sentiment, criticizing Republican politicians for “talking about outlawing these people.” 

Aaron Reed’s memories of March 11 mainly concerned what happened inside the pavilion, rather than outside. Reed praised his team, and Parasol Patrol for trying to do “everything we could to block the kids from the hate,” and supportive locals, their children “laughing, singing, dancing,” as storyteller River Rose read and sang. Specifically, Reed named the father of a “ten-year-old local trans girl,” who said to him after the show it was “the first time he saw her smile in two years,” since beginning her transition. 

Weeks have passed since the incident at Memorial Park, and Matthew Asente is still shaken. He has a “close trans friend,” with whom he plays Dungeons and Dragons. Asante admitted “I’d be lying if I said I understood it wholly at first,” but experiencing the hatred directed at the queer community on March 11 has given him a new perspective. For the first time, Asante recognized that the protesters at Memorial Park wanted to “eradicate,” the LGBTQ community, and called the vitriol directed at the attendees  “terrifying.” However, Asante made clear what he went through was nothing compared to LGBTQ people who must withstand it daily, saying “I felt that for an hour.” Aaron Reed views March 11 as a warning, and should serve to “wake up the good people,” that many people in this country are “walking around in fear every day.” No matter what lines in the sand anti-LGBTQ activists attempt to draw, Matthew Asente felt the choice was far more binary. “You’re either with the Nazis, or against them.”

Zurie Pope is a University of Cincinnati student and freelance writer.

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Fathers should speak to kids about drugs, alcohol

Highlight dangers of illicit substances, how to manage peer pressure

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What does it take to be a good father? While there are many answers, it generally involves showing up daily, playing an essential role in their life, being there for them, and loving them unconditionally. 

Fathers are there to provide abundant love and support. Most fathers know the sacrifice it takes to ensure their children are loved and cared for. A father is always there for their kids, offering guidance, support, and education. The greatest joy for any father is seeing their children thrive, do well in life, and be healthy. 

However, things can get derailed in life, and teens and young adults take risks, such as experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Fathers have a responsibility to speak to their kids about drugs and alcohol and help them understand the risks and consequences. 

Data has shown that more than half of LGBTQ youth used alcohol in the last year, and more than one in three LGBTQ youth used marijuana in the previous year. Approximately 11% of LGBTQ youth reported regular use (defined as daily or weekly use) of both alcohol and marijuana.

Illegal drugs today are more readily available than ever before. According to the DEA, drug traffickers have turned smartphones into a one-stop shop to market, sell, buy, and deliver deadly fake prescription pills and other drugs. Amid this ever-changing age of social media influence, kids, teens, and young adults are easily influenced.  

Drug traffickers advertise on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. The posts are promptly posted and removed with code words and emojis used to market and sell illicit drugs. Unfortunately, digital media provides an increased opportunity for both marketing and social transmission of risk products and behaviors. 

Fathers are responsible for protecting and preparing our children for the world. Drug education is essential. Take the time to speak to your kids about the dangers of illicit substances, how to avoid and manage peer pressure, and what to look for. Be prepared to share personal experiences and help them understand that some choices have consequences. 

However, it can be challenging to see our kids struggle with things in life, and as fathers, we can also face our own difficulties, making it more difficult to help our children. The responsibility of raising children can be a lot; there are many challenges along the way, and the pressure of being a good influence can get the best of us. 

All of this makes it vital not to ignore our mental health; children, especially younger kids, mimic what they see. How we cope with frustration, anger, sadness, or isolation impacts our children in several ways. 

Our actions have consequences. Children see how we handle every situation, and while no father is perfect, we must be conscious of the fact they are impressionable when they are young. They look up to us, mimic our actions, and see when we are doing well in life mentally.   

The key for fathers caring for children is to take the time to care for themselves. However, if you are struggling, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Taking care of your mental health is the same as taking care of your physical health; it is an integral part of your well-being and contributes to you being the best father you can be.

Nickolaus Hayes is a healthcare professional in the field of substance use and addiction recovery and is part of the editorial team at DRS. His primary focus is spreading awareness by educating individuals on the topics surrounding substance use.

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In debate, Biden must stay on offense

President needs more lines like ‘I am running against a 6-year-old’

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On June 27, President Joe Biden will debate the man he has called a six-year-old. A great line, and he needs a few more like that. Unless there is a clear stumble by either candidate, we know what they will say. Trump will call Biden ‘sleepy Joe,’ among other names. But the reality is, people are used to it. They are not as used to Biden returning the favor. And Biden, aside from referring to Trump as a convicted felon, needs some lines that will make headlines the next day. Something with a little humor in it, but still making a strong point. 

Trump is scary. The recent column in the Washington Post on how Russ Vought, the former president’s budget director, is laying the groundwork for a broad expansion of presidential powers, is truly frightening. Now if it were me, I would be able to use my usual litany of words when referring to Trump: racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic pig, found liable for sexual assault, and convicted felon. I may even go as far as suggesting society replace the word felon with “Trump.” People at trials could be convicted of 34 “Trumps.” But Biden can’t really use that. Maybe Biden can do something like look him in the eye and say, “You can’t really believe all the BS you keep spouting!” Then add, “The world is a complicated place, and even most six-year-olds seem to have a better understanding and grasp of it than you do.” 

Then there is the focus on the very serious part of the debate. The discussion of issues including the economy, abortion, contraception, and foreign policy. Reminding people, it was Trump who killed the immigration bill in Congress, telling energy billionaires if they raise him a billion dollars, in essence bribe him, they can “drill baby drill.” The president needs to speak to African Americans, Latinos, women, and the young. He needs to tell each of those groups what will happen if the six-year-old he is running against, were to become president again. 

Then he needs to look directly into the camera and say to the audience at home, “It isn’t only Trump you need to fear, it is the people he will surround himself with. His sycophants and cult, who will let him get revenge on anyone who says a word against him.” You can count on the fact it will be much worse than the last time around when he tried to stage a coup, because no decent person will work for him.

The first debate will take place 18 weeks before the Nov. 5 election. So much can change between then and the election. Remember when we talked about an October surprise? In today’s world there could be July, August, and September surprises as well. Between now and election day we will be treated to an overload of polling, most of it wrong. We will read hundreds of headlines, many of them clickbait. If you watch TV you will get to listen to hundreds of talking heads, many knowing no more than you. The difference being, they are being paid to spout off on the election, giving not facts, but their opinions. 

It seems every four years we hear this could be the most important, the most crucial, election of our lifetime. Well, this time those who say it just may be telling the truth. One candidate, convicted of 34 “Trumps,” is telling you he will be a dictator, and using Hitler’s words. He has the likes of Russ Voight advising him, and openly says he will seek revenge. Nothing could be more frightening. He is telling the young he doesn’t care about climate change, and telling the poor their programs will be cut because he will cut taxes for the rich.  

He calls our soldiers, those who sacrificed their lives and died in wars, “suckers and losers.” He called John McCain “a war hero because he was captured,” saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” This frightening, sick man, with the world view of a warped six-year-old, will lead the United States if we aren’t willing to stand up to him, and his MAGA cult. Yes, I am afraid! And you should be too! If you are a woman, a minority, a member of the LGBTQ community, or just poor, be scared, be very afraid! If Trump and his cult win, you will lose what little you think you now have.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Why you should celebrate pride with a musical about GenderCannibalism?

Rose: You Are What You Eat, through June 23 at Woolly Mammoth.

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Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Because when I came out as trans my aunt told me it was because I ate my twin in the womb…and that’s what the show is about

Because…remember that time when you decided to dress like exactly like your older sister; or you stole your mothers’ makeup or your brother’s tie; or you decided to dress up like Katherine Hepburn for halloween when you were (i dunno) 10; or you started to look eerily like your lover…..that’s all gender cannibalism

Because because because because because….” because if you know that song this was made for you…and if you don’t…it’s okay, we’ll work on it

Because you can probably find a cute date at the show irl instead of just swiping in your phone…think of theater as an in person dating app without as much drunkenness as the bar

Because maybe that cute date is me

Because you can sing along to music written by a bunch of queers from Philly and D.C. 

Because we are all so hungry and so so thirsty 

Because I guarantee you will leave feeling fed

Because cannibalism puns are tasty

Because it’s a comedy

Because there are pay-what-you-can tickets

Because it plays all of June

Because we are consuming gender all the time but rarely watching what and how we eat it 

Because it’s an anti-assimilationist endeavor: the corporations can’t co-opt “gender cannibalism” for pride month (but there is merchandise available at the show…)

Because it’s only 75 minutes

Because I dance around in tighty whities with socks on my hands

Because there is a free clothing swap and treats in the gallery next to the show

Because why not?

Because you will be cast as my Mother, and that’s the role of a lifetime (or at least my lifetime)

Because you won’t know what will happen; you can’t pause or rewind the show; you will be taking a risk; you will find it’s more than just entertainment; you will feel me talking right to you

Because I’ve been writing this show for 34 years and am finally ready to share it with you

Because I’ll be in the lobby afterwards to say hi, and receive hugs, stories, and phone numbers 

Because I made this piece for you, my dear deviants, trans folx, genderful ones and for the people that care for us. It is a good laugh and a good cry and meant as a gift, a way to end your day feeling loved, nourished and worthy

Because don’t you want to be nourished and reminded that you are loved and worthy? 

And frankly because art needs you to survive and you need art to thrive

Because I took the time to write this letter to you and you took the time to read it, and neither you nor I want to waste that investment

Because you won’t want to miss it

Get tickets to Rose: You Are What You Eat, playing through June 23rd.

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