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Drag Story Hour AZ organizers were under too much pressure.
On October 8th 2022, Drag Story Hour Arizona (DSH-AZ) was scheduled to participate in a free event and fundraiser at the Tucson Children’s Museum. Previous DSH-AZ events and other LGBTQ+ spaces were put under siege by bigots. This time was too much, and they knew it. DSH-AZ was forced to cancel the event. LCRW sat down with DSH-AZ President David Boyles to discuss the attacks on his community, and those responsible.
David Boyles is a shining light in the already-bright state of Arizona. He’s a writer and English professor at Arizona State University (ASU) who also teaches classes on pop culture, visual rhetoric, and the LGBTQ+ community. Boyles is also the sitting president of Drag Story Hour Arizona (DSH-AZ) and helps to organize queer-friendly activites month-by-month.
“I’m a Virgo and volunteer for committees when no one else will, by default,” Boyles told LCRW while sitting at a table in the queer-owned, LGBTQ-friendly coffee shop, Brick Road, where he also holds monthly DSH-AZ events.
One month DSH-AZ are organizing a family-friendly book reading at Brick Road during the daytime, the next month it’s a young-adults meetup where the local LGBTQ+ community can grab a coffee, play board games, read a banned book, watch a drag show, or The Golden Girls reruns projected onto the rainbow-packed wall.
David helps with fundraisers to support the local LGBTQ+ community, represents DSH-AZ at Phoenix and Tucson Pride Fest, and works with organizations to support trans youth. At the end of September, Boyles served as mentor to a group of LGBTQ+ teenagers at Chandler High School who organized a student walkout to protest a recent wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws passed in Arizona and throughout the rest of the country. Chandler students organized hundreds of protesters and generated solidarity walkouts throughout the state.
Drag Story Hour Arizona started back in 2019, building off the already-growing national network of Drag Story Hours throughout the country, with some international chapters. DSH-AZ was founded by Michelle Miranda-Thorstad, who still serves as the Executive Director. According to Boyles, Miranda-Thorstad had previously attempted to hosted a queer-friendly book reading where she worked. This was before she became officially affiliated with DSH but immediately there was backlash from the hate mob. Her work caved to the bigoted reactions and canceled the book reading. Frustrated with the lack of support, Miranda-Thorstad left her job.
Miranda-Thorstad couldn’t hold the planned book reading, but it brought her and Boyles together. After meeting at another public event, the two were quickly organizing monthly DSH-AZ meetups together. Their plan was to rent the rooms for DSH-AZ and do everything themselves. No more navigating the corporate politics and bureaucracy just to read aloud Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer.
By February 2019, Drag Story Hour Arizona had been incorporated into a non-profit and became officially affiliated with the National Drag Story Hour. Boyles assumed chapters in New York or San Francisco could give the conservative-heavy Arizona some tips but was surprised to learn what a hub for queer culture his home state is. Arizona’s drag community is one of the largest in the country with 6 regular DSH performers and over a dozen more who have done part-time literacy training with DSH-AZ. Five Arizonans sit on the national DSH board of 15, including Boyles himself. These Grand Canyon State residents were soon making history: Internationally-acclaimed Arizona drag king Freddy Prinze Charming pointed out that Drag Queen Story Hour erased Drag Kings. So the organization dropped “Queen” from its name—a breakthrough for gender equality.
Drag Story Hour Arizona has been a reoccurring festivity, appearing at local libraries, museums, bookstores, and colleges, and holding monthly events in 2022. But since its beginning in 2015, Drag Story Hours around the country have been targeted by bigots. Post-COVID lockdown times have seen an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes, according to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). But Boyles was born and raised in Arizona and felt he was ready for them.
A former Mesa Community College dean tried to shut down one DSH-AZ event in 2019, but it was quickly moved to a different campus instead of being canceled entirely. Even when coronavirus left Boyles organizing satellite events for two years, he was careful to scan for online trolls and bigots (and there were a few). He had always been vigilant. Since Miranda-Thorstad and Boyles teamed up, no DSH-AZ event had been canceled—until recent activity by Libs of TikTok.
Chaya Raichik, the Fox News-promoted anti-trans troll who goes by the handle “Libs of TikTok” and uses her massive online hate mob to target queer-friendly teachers, childrens’ hospitals and others. In August, Libs of TikTok/Raichik sent her followers after the Phoenix Children’s Hospital for offering information on their gender-affirming services. Phoenix Children’s Hospital resource pages were removed, which far-right media used as proof of a “cover up.” Previously, Raichik targeted the Arizona Department of Education and Q-Chat Space—one of their suicide prevention resources for LGBTQ+ youth. The Arizona Republican Party used the “dirt” dug up by Raichik to attack opponents and fundraise.
“This is a fight for our future!!! We can either make sure our future generation of Arizonans receive an age-appropriate, worthwhile education… Or we can let their youth be filled with Gender Bender strippers and Woke Teachers’ Unions who want to indoctrinate them,” an AZ GOP official email read.
Tom Horne, a pedophile-defender currently running for Arizona Superintendent, even used scaremongering about Q-chat Space in debate against Kathy Hoffman. Hoffman, incidentally, is a frequent target of Raichik.
Raichik/Libs of TikTok generated a flood of hate calls and emails towards multiple Arizona and DSH events before Boyles was finally forced to cancel one. But when DSH-AZ canceled the “Art After Dark” event at the Tucson Children’s Museum on October 8, 2022, Raichik hadn’t even posted about it. She didn’t have to anymore because Raichik’s huge social media following had birthed mini-Libs of TikToks in every state and city.
ARIZONA’S ANTI-LGBTQ+ NETWORK
First it was Kelly Walker.
Walker helped to run a militia-friendly coffee shop, Viva Coffee House. Recently, he had a falling out with his own family/co-owners and the business went under. He, along with members of the Patriot Party of Arizona, Purple for Parents, and AZ Border Recon, were involved in a Tucson incident in May last year when a group of far-right, mask-adverse parents stormed Vail School Board, making board members flee for safety.
Last September, Walker attempted to tie up the principal of Mesquite Elementary School when his friend and militia-buddy Rishi “Reese” Rambaran’s small child was asked to wear a medical mask in class during the COVID pandemic. The request was unacceptable to Walker, who didn’t even have children at the school, and he brought a pair of police-grade zip-ties to force the principal into submission. Instead, he was arrested—but only after the fact, when his self-recorded threats of the incident went viral.
After Walker discovered DSH-AZ’s Art After Dark fundraiser, he began his mission to get the family-friendly drag event canceled.
“They’re coming for your children. This “after dark” (grοοm1n9) event is happening at Tucson CHILDREN’S museum. No nation, empire, or republic will survive long with this kind of degradation of basic ethical foundations. This is not politics, it is good vs. evil,” tweeted Walker. He also obsessed about the Art After Dark fundraiser on his podcast.
Soon, the usual network of anti-LGBTQ bigots diverted their attention to the free event and fundraiser. It was a local network with figureheads like “concerned mom” Amanda Wray, Lacey Nagao from Turning Point USA, and the local iHeart radio host Garret Lewis, who dedicated a whole episode of The Morning Ritual with (you guessed it) Garret Lewis to targeting the DSH-AZ event.
“At this point, other than the colorful public invitations, what’s the difference between a Drag Queen Story Hour and a white van with puppies? Admission is ‘FREE’ if you don’t value your child’s innocence,” Wray posted before tagging the accounts of Libs of TikTok, Kari Lake, and Blake Masters.
The Children’s Museum didn’t even cancel the event themselves. David and DSH-AZ made a decision to shut it down out of growing safety concerns. The hate being generated to the Children’s Museum staff was unbearable. Many of them were volunteers and LGBTQ+ themselves. It was an all-out assault.
And this was just one of many such campaigns against queer people across the country. A bakery in Illinois is currently being stalked by a group of bigots after a Proud Boy threw a brick through their window and spray painted “F-GS RAPE KIDS” in their entrance. The bakery’s crime? Trying to throw a family-friendly drag show. Proud Boys, including a neo-Nazi member, stormed into a library in California to threaten a DSH event. Anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations and violence increased four times from 2020 to 2021 and this year is already on track to exceed the number of reported attacks, according to ACLED.
Boyles compared the local anti-LGBTQ network to White Citizens’ Councils that popped up in response to the Civil Rights Movement, particularly as schools began to desegregate.
The current anti-LGBTQ+ movement uses a multi-tiered approach, Boyles explained:
“They knew they had to work both angles – the respectable people and the terrorists. Local respected white business owners would get quoted alongside Martin Luther King Jr. The KKK was detestable, but the two groups were 100 percent connected. It’s like Kari and Ethan,” Boyles explained.
He was describing the way “respectable” politicians like Kari Lake fuel more explicit violence in the community, using local neo-Nazi serial harasser Ethan Darryl Schmidt-Crocket as an example. Schmidt has targeted multiple DSH-AZ events, LGBTQ-friendly churches, synagogues, restaurants and medical buildings in his quest for right-wing clout. He sometimes goes by “Anti-Masker’s Club” online.
On the “respectable” side, gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and other “mama and papa bears” running for local school board or Arizona legislature repeatedly use anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry in their quest for power. Some, like Peoria School Board candidate Heather Rooks, become enraged at teaching staff using “preferred pronouns” (credit to Arizona activist Josh Gray for flagging this). Some, like former Superintendent candidate Shiry Sapir, brag about the books they want to ban. Others talk about bringing in a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell-style policy to Arizona schools (under the guise of “Parental Rights.”) Some are affiliated with the anti-immigrant Patriot Party of Arizona while others are connected to Purple for Parents (the far-right opposition to Red for Ed), the Turning Point USA-backed Moms Against the Machine, or militias under the Three Percenter banner.
Deer Valley Unified School Board candidate Paul Alan Carver made a whole campaign off attacking “critical race theory” and LBGTQ+ students. He’s also the head of a local III% sect, the Union Of Three Percenter American Patriots, as LCRW previously reported.
In Scottsdale, Amanda Wray regularly tags Libs of TikTok on anything too gay for her spotted in the public schools her children don’t even attend. Wray, alongside Kari Lake and Turning Point USA, is also one of the parents who generated a campaign to remove Scottsdale school board member Jann-Michael Greenburg after a “Google dossier” was discovered on his Drive with a list of the far-right parents who had been appearing at every school board meeting. Lake, Wray, and Charlie Kirk capitalized off the so-called “dossier,” and characterized Greenburg as a pedophile. Greenburg was eventually ousted as Scottsdale USD president.
The Arizona Republican Party is a major driver of anti-queer bigotry. While the party (usually) knows well enough not to directly organize or incite violence, they do plenty to whip up hate and push discriminatory policies. Oath Keeper state senator Wendy Rogers calls the entire LGBTQ+ community “groomers” and “jokes” about trans people being murdered. The Arizona Republican Senate announced plans to ban drag in the state. The image of a cis burlesque dancer that Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon falsely claimed was a trans woman appeared in a recent mailer from the Center for Arizona Policy Action to promote far-right candidates Mary Ann Mendoza, former Mesa cop Rob Scantlebury, and Kathy Pearce.
This year on the eve of Trans Day of Visibility, Governor Doug Ducey signed two anti-trans bills into law. One law outlaws trans girls and women from Arizona sports, the other bans gender-affirming care for trans youth.
LCRW previously documented some of the less-respectable side of the anti-queer movement’s earlier waves of attacks against Drag Story Hour Arizona back in June 2022. This included a woman affiliated with the Patriot Party of Arizona named Val Garcias, Schmidt, and Schmidt’s part-time videographer, antisemitic “groyper” Kyle Clifton. The Littlest Bookstore in Tucson and Brick Road Coffee in Tempe were targeted by Garcias and Schmidt, while Clifton snuck inside an adults-only sex trivia drag show at Gracie’s Tax Bar in Phoenix to film the crime of adults having the kind benign fun he seems incapable of enjoying.
Back in the summer of 2022, Arizona Senate Republicans had just announced interest in introducing legislation that would outlaw anyone under 18 from being “exposed” to drag shows. It was in response to a Texas drag show that had been assaulted by groypers, self-described Christian fascists calling for murder, far-right media, and sexual harasser/wannabe comedian Alex Stein. Republicans all over the country were responding to videos from the family-friendly drag brunch, including Arizona’s GOP and candidates like Kari Lake. Smiling families enjoying themselves to a family-friendly drag performance was unacceptable to the bigot brigade. Lake used footage from the Texas drag bunch to campaign:
“Let’s make this abundantly clear. This is grooming. This is child abuse. Maybe that’s acceptable in Dallas, Texas. But it will not be tolerated in @KariLake-led Arizona,” her “Kari Lake War Room” account tweeted.
Lake would continue to make anti-drag campaigning a major part of her platform after a former friend and local drag queen, Barbra Seville, called her out for her hypocrisy—Lake had hired Seville and other drag performers for years (including at events with her children present) and taken numerous photos with them. Lake doubled down, burning bridges in her quest for power, and would later begin to add trans children to her list of easy targets.
Before Lake narrowed her focus on the LGBTQ+ community she was already inspiring local bigots to action. The first subject the Lake campaign grifted off of was coronavirus conspiracies and anti-mask pandering. Early rallies, like one at ASU, featured faces that would soon become familiar to DSH-AZ and Boyles, like Ethan Schmidt and January 6 rioter Micajah Jackson.
At a mask-burning rally at the college, Schmidt and Jackson were in the audience watching as fans. Later, Jackson would attempt to intimidate local journalist Brahm Resnik as he covered the rally. Schmidt would also later threaten to target Resnik at his home. Similarly, Schmidt once filmed himself dressed as a utility worker attempting to get into the home of Jann-Michael Greenburg, the Scottsdale school board member targeted by Lake, TPUSA and Amanda Wray.
Locals like Jackson and Schmidt are responsible for their own actions, but it’s easy to see the pattern. When Kari Lake, Trump, Libs of TikTok, or some other anti-LGBTQ+ bigot draws attention to an event and people like them are spurred to action. It doesn’t help that Jackson has been working openly with Arizonan Republican candidates, doing campaign videos with Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem and congressional candidate Kelly Cooper. And, to our knowledge, Lake has refused to publicly denounce Schmidt.
Before the Art After Dark event was canceled, Schmidt attempted to crash several DSH-AZ book readings. In June 2022, he was escorted off-property by police and banned from Brick Road Coffee. Only days before Art After Dark, Schmidt had staked out another LGBTQ+ event in Maryvale while Micajah Jackson and an unknown man in braids attempted to sneak in. Jackson even pretended to have a husband and put on a badge with “they/them” pronouns. Luckily, the duo was quickly kicked out once they began to cause chaos.
It’s not just Schmidt and Jackson. Sometimes it’s people affiliated with them, sometimes it’s people connected to the Proud Boys or a local militia. But there’s a lot of recurring characters. DSH organizers were well-aware of AZ Patriots leader Jennifer Harrison because she had targeted DSH-AZ in the earlier days. He knows of the Proud Boys because the hate group has been a major driver in violence against the drag and LGBTQ+ community. The Arizona Proud Boys even boast of their regular attacks with a recent photo of themselves edited to read: “Taking your kids to a drag show? Not today.”
The local anti-LGBTQ network has another online component. A hate website called AZ Free News monitors the local LGBTQ+ community, writing about anything they deem too gay or trans. Nearly every Arizona LGBTQ+ event that’s experienced hateful calls or emails had a spotlight from AZ Free News. An Indigenous drag show at the Phoenix Museum? Praising the Arizona GOP’s desire to outlaw drag? A Drag Story Hour in Scottsdale? One in Tucson? The Phoenix Children’s Hospital providing gender-affirming healthcare? A public school creating an LGBTQ+ club for queer students and allies? Thirteen private schools being inclusive towards their trans students? AZ Free News has it covered and, like Libs of TikTok, the website occasionally directs their attention to “critical race theory” found in Arizona schools. Often, their articles are just reposts of Libs of TikTok’s Twitter account. Their main writer is Corrine Maddock, who also contributed to Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire.
According to the Arizona Corporate Commission, AZ Free News is owned by the “Arizona Freedom Foundation. The outlet’s owners are listed as Scot Mussi and Chris Buskirk. Buskirk is the lead publisher and editor at American Greatness, a nationalist MAGA-friendly “news” site. Mussi is President and Executive Director of The Arizona Free Enterprise Club who ran anti-public transportation campaigns. AZ Free News’s ACC information and “About” page also shows Eric Porteous in an ownership position and acting as the site’s managing editor. Porteous previously worked as the Director of Digital Marketing for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale-based anti-LGBTQ hate group.
At this point, DSH organizers can spot many of the familiar faces, like Schmidt or Jackson, and follow the familiar channels who post their plans to storm his events like some of them stormed the Capitol. DSH-AZ, the national Drag Story Hour, and the Arizona LGBTQ+ community have created a reliable network to keep themselves safe, but Boyles is also frustrated.
Drag queens are followed and doxed, events are crashed, DSH-AZ volunteers face wave-after-wave of slur-filled emails and voicemails, and now an event had to be canceled due to the risks. And despite the huge spike in anti-LGBTQ violence, Boyles has seen very little, if any, local coverage on the victims of this violence.
While local and national media regularly cover the far-right activities of many of the people Boyles encounter, most say little about how they terrorize the local LGBTQ+ community. In fact, many give them a pass on their extremism. Micajah Jackson’s presence with the Proud Boys in D.C. on J6 was well-covered by Arizona media, but most don’t push back when he says he doesn’t know the Arizona Proud Boys despite rallying alongside them at a January 6 anniversary rally. For years, Jennifer Harrison was quoted by local papers and remains friendly with Tucson police as she harasses migrants at the US-Mexico border. The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest paper, gave an interview to David Miner, the leader of a neo-Nazi Aryan Nations church. And Ethan Schmidt alone is extremely (and unfortunately) viral due to the MeidasTouch PAC-backed PatriotTakes Twitter account reposting his every video (usually with an ActBlue donation link to follow).
Boyles recognizes Schmidt immediately but fails to see adequate coverage of the violence he’s regularly leading against the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s not that local media is failing to cover Schmidt—they often do—but they usually stick to covering his own videos and simply reposting the viral PatriotTakes-funneled content, even sharing the link to his social media, helping to boost his following. Once he was even quoted by Newsweek for one in a million of his random videos where he denounced Trump as a “dumb boomer”—an entire article based on one sentence from a nobody serial harasser in Arizona.
Very rarely is there original coverage, but they’ll share a video of Schmidt filming himself asking a random Target customer why they’re wearing a Pride shirt or threatening to “hunt” the LGBTQ+ community. Schmidt might not get views on his own accounts, but he still gets a thrill from the reposts and the local media coverage. Sometimes, failing to do the most basic research, PatriotTakes will also fall for Schmidt reposting older videos.
Back in July 2022, national media covered a video of Schmidt harassing workers at a PetsMart, demanding they remove a Pride display, as if it had just occurred. They took the bait. The video was months old and he bragged about his clout-chasing win.
“I run the media,” Schmidt bragged. “Front page everywhere. & it’s not even June yet,” he posted to his Telegram.
MacDonald-Evoy was frustrated.
“Y’all ever think maybe just cause something is trending that you don’t have to write about it? Maybe that is what an extremist wants? To amplify,” he complained.
Once, a local Fox affiliate even scheduled an interview with Schmidt to hear “his side” of things. AZRWW personally reached out and begged them not to.
This is what was frustrating Boyles. Not only were he, DSH-AZ, and the entire Arizona LGBTQ+ community experiencing threats and harassment but the people doing the harassment were being propped up by the Arizona Republican Party and nearly given interviews to further spread their hate. Meanwhile, the victims were being ignored. And when one story trickled into the national news, it was treated as an isolated incident rather than part of a pattern of long-standing abuse.
“The cult of objectivity gets in the way,” Boyles explains. He laments that media and Republican Party treat the people he calls “terrorists” as “serious people” who will speak in good faith:
“They know what they’re doing. Stop treating it like both sides. It’s objectivity to the point where they have to act like idiots,” he says.
Boyles wonders why local reporters need to see a brick through the window, a slur sprayed to the walls, and a million-views viral video before the violence against him and the LGBTQ+ and drag community is taken seriously. He wonders why they will cover every ridiculous and hateful comment posted to Schmidt’s Telegram (then reposted by PatriotTakes) but they won’t cover the people Schmidt is victimizing. He wonders why the local media has a sick obsession with Kari Lake but won’t cover the communities she’s stoking violence against.
Boyles then described his disappointment with local media’s coverage regarding a recently-passed book banning bill, HB 2495. The TPUSA-pushed law originally included a total ban on books with any mention of “homosexuality.” The removal of the term led to it being characterized as a law that bans “sexually explicit material” and “pornography,” something that is obviously already illegal and not the goal of the bill.
Boyles isn’t stupid. He knows the law will be used to target any book too queer-friendly or realistic when it comes to the topics of race, sex, gender, slavery, genocide, or basic American history.
PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022 shows the top theme in the recent wave of book bans is targeting books with “LGBTQ+ Themes, Protagonists, or Prominent Secondary Characters.” The following, in a close second, is “Protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color.” Nearly half the bans in the index are directly related to proposed or enacted legislation. Maus by Art Spiegelman was recently pulled from a Tennessee school board or The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas regularly faces challenges from racist parents.
Boyles also takes issue with the lack of protections from the mainstream LGBTQ+ outreach organization like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Boyles says these mainstream LGBTQ+ organizations are failing the trans community, particularly trans youth.
“They’ve kept us at a bit of an arm’s length,” Boyles says, explaining the difficult relationship between the trans and drag community and the “mainstream nonprofit industrial complex,” whose main goal, in his opinion, is to raise money for the Democrat Party.
“And they have kept the terror campaign happening against trans kids in particular at arm’s length. It’s not a priority for them. Even with the book banning, they’re not going out on a limb,” he says.
Under the TPUSA-backed legislation, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson are now at risk of being pulled from Arizona schools due to the intentionally-vague HB 2495. It’s one of the many reasons he and local LGBTQ+ students at Chandler High just staged a successful walkout on September 29. Boyles and the Arizona LGBTQ+ community are frustrated and they want people to start listening.