GEAUGA COUNTY, Ohio — Police in Geauga County are asking for organizers to cancel this Saturday's drag queen brunch and story hour "in order to protect all involved, the children attending, and the residents of Chester Township."
The church, however, has issued a statement saying they plan to move forward with the event.
"Despite three vile threats from hate groups, we are moving forward and we are confident in our security plan," according to a Facebook post from the Community Church of Chesterland UCC. "We desperately wish to communicate to well-meaning supporters and community members that they should stay home if they are not coming to our events with a ticket. We are grateful for the support but we do not want anyone to be harmed by potentially violent hate groups."
In a later post, the church shared another statement in which they said they were "not only surprised but disappointed by the chief’s decision to make a public statement about threats to our event without sharing any information with us about specific threats."
They called for police "to turn their attention away from our private events and focus on keeping the hate groups away. Instead of asking us to hide, perhaps they could tell the hate groups not to come."
These new developments come after 3News reported earlier this week the church had been receiving threats and was hit by vandalism.
Police urge organizers to cancel event
Here is the full statement posted by the Chester Township Police Department as of 9 a.m. Thursday:
The Chester Township Police Department, Chardon Police Department and Geauga County Sheriff’s Office have continued to monitor all intelligence reports, and social media chatter, concerning the Drag Brunch & Story Hour events being held in Chester Township and the City of Chardon on April 1, 2023.
In order to protect all involved, the children attending, and the residents of Chester Township, law enforcement officials have made an official recommendation to the event organizer, and the Community Church of Chesterland to cancel this event. This recommendation was not made without forethought and consideration of all current intelligence information available. As law enforcement officials, we cannot ignore the event coordinators own assessment and concerns for potential violence occurring at an event focused on children.
Based on current intelligence information as well as information provided by the event organizer, there is a realistic threat that organized protests and counter-protests could result in violence. It is important to note that the “Story Hour” event being held in Chester Township is focused on children and there will be children present at the church. Additionally, there are other family friendly events being held in Chester Township on April 1.
The protection of life and property are at the core of everything we do in law enforcement. We strive to use de-escalation as a method for preventing violence, and I was hopeful that our recommendation to cancel these events and de-escalate a tense and unpredictable situation would be met with cooperation and an understanding.
The Chester Township Police Department evaluates each event, interaction and investigation, to ensure that we stay within the focus of our mission and core values. We owe it to our community members to ensure a safe place to live, work, and visit.
We are asking and encouraging all event attendees, protesters, and counter-protesters to act peacefully and legally so as not to endanger the safety of persons or property. Failure to do so will result in legal consequences.
As always, our Officers will work diligently to ensure that the residents of this great township are protected from any hostilities that my occur on April 1.
Chief Craig T. Young
Young also spoke to 3News' Neil Fischer about the reasons for the department's recommendation. While he couldn't get into specifics about threats, he did say they are aware of several.
"Obviously when we put together a security plan, we can't divulge any of that information because it jeopardizes law enforcement. So I can't get into the specifics of the threats. However, I will say threats have been made," he told Fischer.
Young says he spoke to Wadsworth Police Chief Dan Chafin, whose department had to deal with protesters during a drag story time event on March 11. Two people were arrested and police identified some of the protesters at the event as Nazis. "A lot of what he was seeing (threats) are similar to what we're seeing here," Young added.
The Chester Township Police Department will have everyone working Saturday. While the Ohio State Highway Patrol has not yet been asked to assist, they are aware of the situation and will be monitoring.
"Every single life out there, I'm looking to protect," Young stated.
Church gives update: "We are moving forward"
The following message was posted on the church's Facebook page about 30 minutes after the statement from police was released:
***Drag Event Update***
We are expecting some protest activity outside the events Saturday. Despite three vile threats from hate groups, we are moving forward and we are confident in our security plan. We desperately wish to communicate to well-meaning supporters and community members that they should stay home if they are not coming to our events with a ticket. We are grateful for the support but we do not want anyone to be harmed by potentially violent hate groups.
What exactly is happening in the community on Saturday and how can people continue to be activists within the community?
The drag show at Element 41 in Chardon begins at 11am. There are two seatings, with the second concluding at 3.
At 4pm the drag story hour begins at the Community Church of Chesterland.
The community can help us in so many ways!
1. Help us raise money for security (we need another $5,000)
2. Send flowers for performers to TFG 125 Main St #2 Chardon OH 44024
3. Flood us and Element 41 with support on social media.
4. Join us for a vigil tonight in Chardon, at 7pm if possible. We'll be at Chardon Square.
Shortly before noon, the church shared another statement with the following message on Facebook:
We are aware of Chief Young’s press release, and we are not only surprised but disappointed by the Chief’s decision to make a public statement about threats to our event without sharing any information with us about specific threats.
When our event organizers and our pastor met with law enforcement officials to discuss the status of safety planning, officials couldn’t point to specific, direct threats – or wouldn’t share them. They cited heightened tensions on social media around drag queens and trans issues – something we all live with every day. They cited the concern for violence after the shooting in Nashville. They cited the presence of hate groups, but again – couldn’t point to any direct, specific threats. Most of the meeting was spent talking about money. Our organizers were asked how police officials could justify to their trustees such a large expenditure to keep the LGBTQ community safe. We ask, how can you justify denying an expenditure keeping the LGBTQ community safe? We understand these hate groups use financial terrorism as a tactic to force police agencies to take sides in situations like these; but choosing the side of the outside hate groups instead of members of this community they are sworn to protect sets a dangerous precedent for future targeted acts like these.
We are confident in our plan to keep our events safe. We have a fully developed security plan with seasoned experts. We are constantly monitoring threats as they develop and are prepared to take necessary steps – up to and including cancelling our event – if it becomes apparent that the police are unable or unwilling to fulfill their obligation to keep the peace. We will be in direct contact with ticketholders should plans for the event change.
In the meantime we implore police officials to turn their attention away from our private events and focus on keeping the hate groups away. Instead of asking us to hide, perhaps they could tell the hate groups not to come.
Community Church of Chesterland Moderator Dan Craig
Community Church of Chesterland Reverend Jess Peacock
Community Church of Chesterland Social Justice Co-Chair Meg Carver
Element 41 Owner and Head Chef Paul Mendolera
The Fairmount Group President Mallory McMaster
The Church is raising funds to pay for extra security measures in the coming weeks, with a goal of $10,000 for security guards and barriers. Donations can be made at the Church's website, or http://tinyurl.com/protectdrag
Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in a previous story on March 26, 2023.