About 30 people protested an all-ages drag queen brunch at a Chattanooga theater Sunday, adding to growing local outcry over children being allowed at drag performances.
"My objection is certainly very strong. They want to influence children to follow their lifestyle, their sins," local activist Charlie Wysong, who attended the protest with Tennessee Neighbors for Liberty, said by phone Monday. "My first solution would be that no one under 18 years old would be allowed at a drag queen event."
Several protesters appeared to be affiliated with the group Patriot Front, Wysong said. Photos and videos posted to social media show a group carrying a Patriot Front sign, flags with the group's logo and wearing identical neck gaiters. The Anti-Defamation League classifies the group as a white supremacist organization whose members identify as fascists and nationalists.
Sunday's was the second show in as many weeks that drew protesters to the Seed Theatre on Vance Road, owners Elizabeth and Brenton Haley said by phone Monday.
Protesters chanted things including "strong families, strong nation" and "reclaim America," while others held signs saying "stop the abuse of children," "groom dogs not children," "cross-dressing is an abomination to the Lord" and "you do not know what love is," according to social media videos and counter-protesters who came out to support the theater. A video posted to a Chattanooga Reddit group appears to show one of the protesters saying "white power" and throwing up a Nazi salute.
Across the way, the counter-protesters held Pride flags and chanted "love will win."
Two people at the protest said Monday there were around 30 people in opposition to the drag show, and a slightly larger group across the street in support of the theater.
Theater owner Elizabeth Haley said the protests have spurred an uptick in support and donations to their organization. Sunday's drag brunch, which features drag performances during the meal, sold out at 80 tickets, Haley said.
"It's been really great for our community, as difficult as it is," Haley said. "It's very clear that we have a strong and healthy presence of LGBTQ people and allies here in Chattanooga."
A Facebook event listing for the protest of the theater advertised it as a demonstration to "stop 'kid-friendly' drag/burlesque shows," according to screenshots obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The protest comes several weeks after a video of a child interacting with a performer at a youth pride event in Chattanooga caused indignation in conservative media -- based on a mistaken impression that the performer was a man dressed as a mermaid. The performer was a biological woman.
The Chattanooga event nevertheless has helped spur legislation introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly that would ban drag performances in public or in private with children present.
Chattanooga police responded to Sunday's demonstration and "stood by to keep the peace," department spokesperson Sydney Hamon said in a text Monday. No incidents were reported during the protest, Hamon said.
Wysong said he first protested another show at the theater on a Friday evening earlier this month. On Sunday, he said, he didn't personally see any children or families going in or out of the show, but said he was concerned since the event was advertised as open to all ages.
The Haleys said they started the theater earlier this year, after finding there was no place like it in Chattanooga where their 15-year-old trans son could go and feel safe.
"That's what we hear more than anything from parents, especially for teachers and young people in those important formative years, they don't have places their kids can go to," Elizabeth said. "Having a safe space their children can come and experience community is really important."