Drag Story Hour at Benson Theatre Draws Opposition
The B Side of Benson Theatre has caught the attention of local religious groups who oppose the venue hosting Drag Queen Story Hour Nebraska. Originally planned for May 11, Benson Theatre rescheduled the event for July 13 to ensure safety of attendees after receiving pushback from an organization called Nebraskans for Founders Values (NFV).
Amy Ryan, Executive Director of Benson Theatre, stated she and the board of directors were “warned” that if they chose to host the program, NFV would work to “alert, inform, and mobilize the community in response to the event." On Saturday, May 11 representatives from a national religious organization called America Needs Fatima, and local affiliates, held what they called a prayer rally, holding signs in opposition that read, “Purity is the Answer” and “Honk Against Drag Queen Story Hour for Children.” The group, which identifies as Catholic, also prayed the rosary.
Francis Slobodnik, the lead organizer from America Needs Fatima said, "We think it's wrong to expose children to the idea that it can be different genders or to have a man dressed as a woman reading stories to children. To us that's an entirely inappropriate corruption of the innocence of children.”
When asked if he or other participants had been in contact with Benson Theatre representatives, Slobodnik said his group was working to influence public opinion, “We don’t think we are going to convince [the theatre] to change their mind,” he said. When asked if they would be willing to speak with theatre reps, “Not at the present time, I don’t see any reason to do that,” said Slobodnik.
As for Benson Theatre, they have not been in contact with Nebraskans for Founders Values or America Needs Fatima as advised by the Anti Defamation League (ADL) but are open to the idea. “We would certainly be willing to have a civil, respectful conversation with them, but kindness and tolerance will need to be key factors that are established in order for our organization to engage in productive dialogue,” said Ryan.
There has been no damage to the property or harm to anyone to date.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska and ADL have been informed of these protests. Rules of engagement have been issued which include standing in silence and peaceful response.
“Benson Theatre's mission is to act as a shared space that engages, enhances, and enriches our community through educational and artistic programming. Our core values are inclusivity, diversity, and compassion. We support the programming of Drag Queen Story Hour because it offers positive, fun, safe, and family-friendly entertainment to the community,” said Ryan.
Zach Schmieder, who works and lives in Benson, was present on May 11 and stood in counter-protest. We reached out to Schmieder for a statement.
“I felt compelled to be present at their protest because I wanted to convey that Benson and it’s residents are extremely large proponents of the LGBTQ community. When a group comes in to our neighborhood and tries to belittle them, it’s our duty to make sure that their hateful rhetoric is not welcome. The residents of Benson are more like a family and we look out for each other regardless of what gender identity or sexual preference you choose to associate with,” he said.
A photo of Schmieder and friend, Taylor Jesperson, kissing in front of the protesters was shared widely on social media.
Queer Nite, a weekly LGBTQIA+ event in Benson, commented on the photo, “We love our hometown, but this just proves that Omaha is stuck in the 1980’s. Protestors for a drag queen story hour?! Get outtttttta here! We won’t be suppressed by your small-minded, midwestern shame!”
Benson Theatre's Anti-discrimination Policy:
Benson Theatre does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, gender identity, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship status, veteran status, political affiliation or economic status in any of its programs, activities and employment. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all of our partner organizations, artists, volunteers and staff.
Correction: Original story suggested Benson Theatre is hosting counter-protests, Ryan clarified it is not and all demonstrations or responses are coordinated by private citizens on their own account.