Armed protestors gather outside San Antonio's Aztec Theatre during Christmas-themed drag show
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Several dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Aztec Theatre in downtown San Antonio on Tuesday night. Some were there to condemn the holiday themed drag show scheduled to take place inside, and others were there to support the show. Some shouldered weapons. Alongside them were armed San Antonio police officers, eyeing both sides as the crowds grew.
The Texas-based far-right extremist group This is Texas Freedom Force led the demonstration. It said earlier that it was there over unsubstantiated claims regarding children. This is Texas Freedom Force has been described as a “militia extremist group” by the FBI.
The group denounced the show as an attempt at "grooming children."
“This all could have been avoided,” it said on Twitter, referring to its demonstration. “Make the show 18yo & up. Even the opposition claims the show isn’t geared towards kids, so why allow them in? Oh that’s right, bc it is about grooming kids, they want kids there.”
Supporters of the LGBTQ community conducted a counter demonstration. Among them was Benjamin Clodfelter, a member of Veterans for Equality. He came armed with a rifle. He said carrying the weapon was meant to be a show of force against the far right group.
"I know that they use guns to try to intimidate people on the left, and they can’t do that if we’re also armed," he explained. "I’m not here to try to shoot anybody or anything like that but if they want to try to intimidate, well, we can stand up to it, and to me this is an expression of that."
I spoke to The Queen Fantasia a moment ago who performs drag shows regularly in San Antonio. They said they came out tonight because “our community is under attack right now and if we are not the ones who show up in support of our own cause, then who will?”@TPRNews pic.twitter.com/4t0hBaJ7k9— Joey Palacios - Texas Public Radio (@Joeycules) December 14, 2022
San Antonio police officers were there to ensure public safety while "protecting … rights to free speech,” according to a police department statement. A squadron of bike police stood nearby and monitored the situation. They kept the demonstrators at a distance from the theater's entrance.
By 7 p.m., supporters and critics of the drag show filled the sidewalks on opposite sides of St. Mary's Street, near its intersection with Crockett Street. Some of the participants supporting the show held signs celebrating LGBTQ rights, waved flags, danced to music and chanted. TPR estimated the LGBTQ side numbered more than 100 people.
The Queen Fantasia, a San Antonio drag performer, said they attended the pro-LGBT demonstration because the community is under attack.
"And if we are not the ones who show up in support of our own cause then who will? Time and time again we hear the same thing and over again about shootings, about attacks, about legislation — but it’s like 'what are we doing?' So anytime I can do something, I’m going to do it."
The far-right group consisted of a few dozen people, and they stood mostly quietly on their side of the street. At least one protestor tried to yell but the larger crowd drowned out his voice.
At another point, a shirtless man stepped into traffic, as if to directly confront the LGBTQ supporters. A police officer stepped in and eased the man back to the other side as people whistled and catcalled. Police gestured for the man to leave, and he left without incident. Later, a participant from the LGBTQ side ran into traffic to yell at the far-right group. A police officer pushed him back into his crowd.
Onlookers stood at the windows in the buildings nearby and watched the drama below. The street remained open and clear, and cars slowly rolled past as drivers surveyed the spectacle. Some cars honked, and the LGBTQ supporters cheered.
The multicolored Christmas lights draped from trees and buildings twinkled in the background, adding to the scene a tense, surreal beauty.
The drag show performance ended around 10:30 p.m., and the demonstrations quickly dissipated without further incident.
"A Drag Queen Christmas" is a traveling drag show visiting 36 cities. It features prominent drag performers, including ones who have starred on "RuPaul’s Drag Race." The show does not bill itself as an all-ages event except in an event disclaimer about ticket prices. All persons require a ticket to enter, regardless of age.
Robert Salcido Jr., executive director of the Pride Center San Antonio, said on TPR’s "The Source" on Tuesday that the recent attacks on drag queens were not about the drag queens themselves but about the LBGTQ community as a whole, dating back to the fight against marriage equality.
“Then when we won marriage equality, they went after trans folks and then trans youth, and now they’re bringing drag queens into the conversation,” he said. “Make no mistake that this is not about drag queens. This is about the LGBTQ+ community and their disdain with us or their dissatisfaction with us as a community, trying to further erase us from the community.”
Kimiya Factory, the executive director of Black Freedom Factory, said during a call to "The Source" that there has been a legal backtrack on laws that protect the LBGTQ+ community and its a First Amendment right to assemble to protect those values.
"Our ultimate goal is queer joy. We are going to show up and ... cheer on the trans non-binary community here in San Antonio and spread a message that we will not stand for this kind of transphobia and fascist agenda in our city, but more importantly, throughout the nation.”