A drag queen storytime event at a local pub is under attack from right-wing extremists who are flooding social media with toxic comments trying to sexualize the all-ages event. The storytime, scheduled for Oct. 23 at Old Nick’s Pub, is “meant to bring a safe space for all families,” its organizer says.
The storytime features several drag queens in costume reading stories and fairy tales, and a couple performances, says Jammie Roberts, the organizer who performs at the all-ages event as Princess Maliena. Typical drag performances feature people in elaborate drag costumes dancing and lip syncing to music.
The drag queen storytime at Old Nick’s Pub is far from the first family-friendly drag event in Lane County. Barnes and Noble bookstore as well as the Eugene Public Library have had drag queen storytimes in the past several years. The trigger for the online hate is that one of the invited performers is 11-year-old Vanellope Macpherson Dupont (her drag name). The presence of the young drag artist has led to unfounded allegations of pedophilia and sexualization.
“This is not a sexual drag event,” says Emily Chappell of Old Nick’s. “Drag is an art form. There’s nothing sexual about drag inherently.” She also refutes the accusations that having an all-ages event at a “bar” is problematic because, as she points out, Old Nick’s is not a bar; it’s a European-style pub and event venue. “It’s a pub,” she says, “a restaurant and a public space.” She calls the attempts to paint the children’s event as sexual or inappropriate, “twisted and weird.”
Right-wing social media influencer Andy Ngo has been amplifying the attacks on his Twitter feed. Ngo is a journalist whose credibility is frequently questioned and who has allegedly been associated with the neo-fascist Proud Boys. Rolling Stone referred to him as a “right-wing troll” in a 2019 article on his manipulation of mainstream media.
Ngo’s tweets about the event have led to breathless coverage in The Daily Caller and the U.K.-based tabloid Daily Mail that Chappell says is inflammatory and inaccurate. The Daily Caller was founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
In an article in The Post Millennial, where Ngo is editor-at-large, Ngo attempts to paint the drag event as pedophilic by pointing out that a drag queen who has appeared in photographs with Vanellope was later arrested on charges of child pornography. Chappell calls that a “skewing of the narrative” and says if there was any association “it was years ago and brief.”
When Eugene Weekly reached out to Ngo about his tweets, he doubled down on his allegations, as did his Twitter-troll followers.
Ngo’s tweets have also drawn the attention of Christina Pushaw, rapid response director for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Pushaw calls the event “beyond creepy” in a tweet. DeSantis and his administration have targeted drag shows in Florida, and DeSantis is known for signing the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law.
Roberts says the event is “whimsical” and “is meant to be a positive thing.” And as a queer youth raised in Medford who was told being queer was wrong, the drag queen storytime is a way to “celebrate you being you.”
Roberts also questions how Vanellope’s makeup and drag performances are any different from the young “USA Freedom Kids” who famously performed their song “Freedom’s Call” at a 2016 election rally for Donald Trump while in elaborate dresses and makeup.
“The issue here is they want to label queer people as pedophiles,” Roberts says, “and that’s not true.” And, they add, making the family-friendly event unsafe isn’t right.
Chappell says as of now the pub’s drag storytime event is still on. Community members are calling for folks to rally in support of the pub, and Chappell says she has also reached out to the Eugene Police Department. She calls Vanellope a “really vibrant and amazing girl,” and says while Old Nick’s doesn’t plan to back down, whether or not the child performs at the weekend event, “We support her.”
Drag Queen Storytime at Old Nick’s Pub is 11 am, Sunday, Oct. 23 at 211 Washington Street in Eugene.
Below is a statement from Vanellope’s family
OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF VANELLOPE MACPHERSON DUPONT:
Thanks to a woman known on twitter as “@hunnybadgermom”, who also felt the need to make assumptions about the situation and release the name of an 11 [year old] child to millions online, we, Vanellope’s family and friends have decided that its time to lay the rumors to rest and present the facts in regard to the relationship between Vanellope and Kelsy Meta-Boren. We realize that we should have made one earlier in the week but taking care of Vanellope has been our priority. V was made a victim of doxing by Mrs. HunnyBadgerMom, who is married to a well-known Proud Boy, which caused [Vanellope] to be unable to attend school the entire week due to safety concerns, causing serious stress, trauma, and anxiety for the child and family.
Regarding the “relationship” between Vanellope and a woman known as Kelsy Meta-Boren, there in fact was no relationship beyond a professional one. Meta-Boren only interacted with V a total of maybe 4 or 5 times in professional settings for venues and charity events. Meta-Boren was not a family friend, nor was she ever a mentor for V in the drag world. They, also, have not had any contact since before covid, and all ties have been severed as of the time of Meta-Boren’s arrest in August. She is currently in jail, awaiting charges, and has absolutely nothing to do with the Story Hour that is being produced. Due to the lack of interactions between them, V is not a victim of Meta-Boren. There was never any “grooming” or even mentorship between Meta-Boren and V, as they never spent time outside of events.
As to those who say V is being forced into this, she is not. At the age of 7 she asked her aunt if she could participate. Sunshine, who is her real drag mother and mentor, said yes as she wanted to support her niece and let her express herself. V has been a shining star that grows brighter and brighter every time she is able to perform on stage. Her dreams include becoming a Broadway star, or in the movies, and she still loves to play with things like slime, does fashion design, and loves to participate in putting on plays with her friends. So, we have all been at her side helping her explore her dreams and let her creativity blossom.
She loves what she does and has faced bullying and criticism from kids her own age, but never from adults that should know better.