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Chesterland Township Police ask church to cancel 'Drag Queen Story Time'; church plans to still hold event

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Posted at 9:44 AM, Mar 30, 2023

CHESTERLAND, Ohio — The Community Church of Chesterland is still forging ahead with its planned drag events this weekend, despite the recommendation of local law enforcement to cancel the events due to threats of potential violence. Although Chester Township Police Chief Craig Young said he supports the idea behind the events — and the rights of organizers to host the events — the chief said Thursday that current intelligence information and prior clashes have left him concerned about attendee safety.

The church quickly doubled down on its commitment to host the Drag Queen Story Time event on Saturday afternoon as well as a drag-themed brunch earlier in the day. Pastor Jess Peacock said the church as well as other event organizers remain confident in their own security plan, which is expected to buttress law enforcement’s plan.

“I’m not going to lie. I’ve been dealing with consistent anxiety for the last three weeks,” Pastor Peacock said. “I have not been sleeping very much for the past three weeks. That said, we are unwavering in our commitment to not only put on these programs but we are unwavering in our commitment to the LGBTQ+ within this community.”

Chief Young said the recommendation that he and other law enforcement officials made on Thursday morning was out of an abundance of caution, especially after vandals threw a Molotov cocktail at a church sign last weekend.

Watch our report below:

Church planning to host 'Drag Queen Story Hour' vandalized

RELATED: Chesterland church planning to host 'Drag Queen Story Hour' vandalized

“Our First Amendment rights are so important to everybody in this country and we value that. We actually support the idea that this is occurring. For us as a police department and for me really as a police chief, it’s not just that event for me; I have to protect and make sure all the residents are safe and everybody passing through this community is safe,” Chief Young said. “That’s the ultimate challenge. Based on the intelligence information we’re getting, based on some of the information that we are getting from the event organizers, there are concerns associated with this event. A lot of this we are basing it on things that occurred in other communities like Wadsworth.”

Earlier this month, a drag-themed event in Wadsworth featured sporadic but violent clashes between protestors and event supporters. White supremacist and white nationalist groups, including at least one protestor wearing Proud Boys clothing, screamed racial epithets and clashed with supporters. Police made at least two arrests.

RELATED: White supremacists protest supporters of Drag Queen Story Hour in Wadsworth

The location of the church, which is in a residential area, is also challenging from a safety perspective, Chief Young said.

“I can’t stand here and say that we are not prepared because we are. We’re prepared as a law enforcement agency and we’re using all of our assets. It’s challenging though,” Chief Young said. “It’s about the safety of those at the event. It’s about the safety of those protesting. It’s about the safety of those officers. It’s about the safety of my officers. It’s about the safety of this community. That recommendation was based 100 percent on that and nothing else.”

Peacock and Mallory McMaster, the head of event security, said they were both disappointed by the police chief’s recommendation but remain committed to hosting the event.

“We always have to take security seriously. As tensions started ramping up, once we heard the hate group started their tour of terror… from city to city and state to state and had planned to invade Geauga County, I realized we had to do more,” McMaster said. “It’s something me and my team discuss daily. We have a plan a, plan b, plan c, plan d and so on.”

McMaster urged those without tickets to the sold-out event to avoid the urge to counter-protest. Instead, she and Peacock urged people to find other ways to offer their support.

“It’s the epitome of arrogance to me that a group of people think they can use violence and threats to tell other people how to live their lives,” Peacock said. “Because of the hate, because of the vitriol, because of people trying to burn our church down, it has now become a social justice cause.”

Chief Young said law enforcement will be prepared regardless.

“It’s their right to do that. I will never ever say that they can’t do that,” Chief Young said. “I support that and I know everybody here supports that.”

CLICK HERE to read the Church's full statement.

RELATED: Chesterland church planning to host 'Drag Queen Story Hour' vandalized