Old Steeple Cancels Drag Event over Safety Concerns


Paul and Cheri Beatie, owners of the Old Steeple and Ferndale Music Co., had never had to cancel an event out of concern for violence. But after Pastor Tyrel Bramwell of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Ferndale recently posted the message, “Beware drag show for kids coming to the Old Steeple” on the church’s marquee, canceling the family-friendly event is what they felt they had to do.
Marchers in the Ferndale Pride Parade, for which the canceled drag event was to raise funds. - FILE
  • File
  • Marchers in the Ferndale Pride Parade, for which the canceled drag event was to raise funds.

The all-ages Lost Coast Pride fundraiser titled “Dragging Through Time” had not even been publicized yet. “As soon as we knew the [church’s] sign was up, we went directly to [Bramwell] and asked that the sign be taken down and he refused. He said if we convinced the organizers to say 18 and over, he would take down the word kids,” says Paul Beatie. It wasn’t a surprise, as Bramwell has grabbed attention with a number of overtly bigoted signs at the church. In an email announcement about the show, the Beaties say, “We agreed to disagree, and at this point, we decided to proceed with the event and ‘turn the other cheek’ — basically, to ignore the bully. We also felt buoyed by support from the majority of the Ferndale community, most of whom are very reasonable, loving people.”

Ferndale Police Chief Ron Sligh says he wasn’t particularly concerned about safety at the drag show. “I mean, I have concerns on every event,” he says, noting he works out security plans for the county fair, for example, but doesn’t get involved in private venues beyond ABC permits for serving alcohol. The sign at St. Mark’s framing the event as dangerous was “something I thought about because it seemed there was potential for some concern, but I didn’t talk with anybody about it. … If I get some information that there may be a counterprotest or something, I’m concerned. If I hear something like that … I’ll want to be as prepared as I can be.”

Sligh says, “Our main focus is to protect people’s safety and their rights. … We’re often between two groups.” He says he recalls working with that goal during protests and standoffs between loggers and environmentalists during the Timber Wars. “I want people to exercise their rights and to do it safely within the law,” he says. “The sign, you know, it’s freedom of speech …  just as the people who want to have the drag show have their rights.”

Ferndale Mayor Randall Cady wasn’t worried when he heard about the drag show and the church sign, either. “But I didn’t have all the information until after it was canceled,” he says. Even then, he says, he doesn’t see much possibility of violence. “I don’t think we have that kind of issues in Ferndale. And we have an excellent police department and Chief Sligh would be out there to make sure there was no violence.”

Asked for his view on the show and the anti-LGBTQ+ sign, Cady says, “I’m in a position where I’m danged if I do danged if I don’t, saying something. I think people can blow things out of proportion. I think the steeple did the right thing by canceling the show for the sake of safety … Would I go to that show? No, it’s not my thing. But if I don’t wanna go, I don’t buy a ticket.” He also notes that parents are “in control of their children. If parents don’t want their kids to go, they won’t let ’em. That’s what being a parent is.” Cady hasn’t spoken to the Beaties or Bramwell about the sign. “I don’t approve of some of the things [Bramwell] says but, you know, it’s a free country.”

By the evening of Monday, Jan. 9, Beatie says, “We got several messages and calls. One was from a parent of a student who takes lessons here. And they were concerned for our safety.”

Beatie says a Facebook post about the show drew some disturbing comments, including requests for participants’ home addresses and people opposed to the show saying they would attend and video the event. While there were no overt threats of violence, he says, “In the context of what’s been going on locally and what’s been going on in the country, boy, it’s not a big step, is it?” Beatie says the recent violent attacks on LGBTQ+ venues and people elsewhere in the country and the shouting, menace and intimidation from protesters of Redwood Pride’s Eureka Halloween event have set frightening precedent.

The Beaties reached out to Kaelan Rivera, the founder of Lost Coast Pride. “I basically said, ‘We feel like we need to pull the plug on this because if this is the kind of blowback we’re getting before the event is even publicized, we’re not prepared to deal with this,’” recalls Beatie, adding, “I wish we were.”

But the Beaties aren’t only concerned about possible violence at the event, but against their family and children.

Rivera, a queer trans man and U.S. Navy veteran who and also goes by Papa K, says he understands the Beaties’ position. “I’m completely understanding. Paul and Cheri are wonderful people and the fact that they opened up their venue was phenomenal.” The show, which had a time-travel theme, had been in the planning since October to raise funds “so that we can continue to have our Pride March, which is a protest, and our Pride Festival afterward, which is a celebration.” Rivera says he understands the concern for safety, particularly as a disabled trans person. But all-ages shows are worth it to him. “Children and adults and parents need to see that there is a huge spectrum of humanity and kids are a part of that.”

The Beaties’ announcement of the cancelation strikes a hopeful note, too: “As parents and community members, it’s our responsibility to keep our community safe. Children take music lessons at our building, and their safety is paramount. We don’t know that this is the ‘right’ decision but it feels like the prudent decision, and personally that’s what is right for our family. We continue to support Lost Coast Pride and the LGBTQ+ community and would like to work together in the future.”

If another show is organized in Ferndale, Cady is confident the town will be welcoming. “We have LGBTQ people who live in Ferndale and they’re just normal citizens in Ferndale and that’s how they’re treated. And that’s how they treat everyone else.”

Rivera is hopeful about a future show, if more cautious. He’s talking with friends about helping him install security cameras at his home, noting his additional vulnerability as a trans man who’s disabled. Despite his own safety concerns, putting on family-friendly shows and making space for LGBTQ+ people is important to him.

“People seem to think that you pop up as an adult as queer. You don’t. … You grow up having to live this heteronormative idea and it’s a false idea,” he says. “Humans have the capacity for all sort of feelings and thoughts.”

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