A number of drag shows in Ontario have become targets of hate

Crystal Quartz made a tearful plea for action after repeated calls for her—and other—drag events to be disrupted 

“I’m scared for my community.” Days after a mass shooting at LGBTQ2S+ venue Club Q in Colorado Springs left five people dead and 19 injured, drag performer Crystal Quartz took to Instagram to plead for help in confronting a growing chorus of calls to disrupt her drag event and other drag events around southwestern Ontario.

Chrystal Peters, an admin of the Freedom Convoy group Patriots of Peel, had put a call out on Facebook for people to join her at a Drag Storytime event at the Terryberry branch of the Hamilton Public Library on November 24. In the post, Peters urged her followers to help her “shut this down.”

Hours later, Peters singled out one of Crystal Quartz’s upcoming events. Peters made a post on the Patriots of Peel Facebook group, which promotes Freedom Convoy events and protests against mask and vaccine mandates, telling members to buy tickets to Quartz’s December 11 Drag Brunch at the Boston Pizza Centre in Hamilton.

“I’m hoping if we buy them all up none of the sick parents can bring their children,” reads Peters’s post.

Quartz called the Guelph Police Service to report the posts. Days passed and she didn’t hear anything back. Feeling isolated and fearful, Quartz made a tearful appeal for community support.

Quartz’s experience is increasingly common. Over a dozen family-friendly drag events across Canada have experienced threats and protests this year. A CBC investigation found that many of the calls to protest these events circulate on social media accounts linked to Freedom Convoy groups.

A new report from GLAAD documented over 124 incidents of anti-drag threats and protests in the United States in 2022. The report notes a number of incidents involving violence or weapons, including the firebombing of an Oklahoma donut shop that had hosted a drag event. In some instances, members of the Proud Boys, a white supremacist hate group that is considered a terrorist entity in Canada, were involved. In both Canada and the U.S., threats against drag events have included unfounded claims of “grooming” and child abuse.

 

“These drag queens are scared for their lives right now, so nobody wants to speak up,” Quartz tells Xtra. “I just felt like somebody had to do something, because this is going too far.”

“I started thinking about it and I’m like, ‘You know what, this is actually pretty serious. This is the third time I’ve contacted them [the police] about safety, not just for me but for multiple people, and they haven’t contacted me back,” says Quartz. “So I made that video and posted it.”

Peters and Patriots of Peel did not respond to questions from Xtra sent via Facebook Messenger.

Initially, Quartz was hesitant to post about what was happening on her social media accounts. Social media has been indispensable in building her following during the pandemic, and Quartz says she tries to keep her social media presence positive.

Quartz started performing in gay clubs around Kitchener-Waterloo 18 years ago, but she soon put drag aside to focus on their hairstyling career. It wasn’t until the beginning of the pandemic, when their other sources of income died up, that Quartz reinvested in her drag career. Since then, Quartz has transitioned away from hairstyling and is now a full-time drag queen. She performs up to seven shows a week all over southern Ontario. 

Quartz first became aware of potential threats against her November 13 Drag Brunch event at a Kelsey’s restaurant in Burlington, Ontario, on October 30. 

Friends of Quartz had sent her screenshots of an Instagram story from and account with the handle “kingnico18,” in which he told his nearly 15,000 followers to buy tickets to the event to give them a “real audience to perform in front of.”

Responding to questions from Xtra via Facebook Messenger, “Nico King Nico” acknowledged creating two images and posting them on social media. Both feature images of drag queens. One equates drag performers and the Pride flag to “666.” The other features a verse from Deuteronomy, a book in the Bible’s Old Testament. 

“I do not have an issue with drag queens. I do not have a problem with the LGBTQ+,” Nico King Nico wrote via Messenger, identifying as founder and lead operator of Crusaders of the Resistance, which aims to “educate people on Bible prophecy.”

“I have nothing but love for all and everyone. The only reason I have gotten [sic] involved is because there are now children involved in what seems to be sexualizing and grooming disguised as story time. And the stories being read are gender fluid.”

Quartz says she spoke with the owner of Kelsey’s, who had also gotten wind of the threatened disruption. He told Quartz that the restaurant had received numerous calls demanding that the event be cancelled. 

Quartz and the restaurant owner agreed that they should each contact the police. Quartz called the Guelph Police Service on Nov. 1 and left a message. After a few days passed and Quartz had neither received any calls nor emails to follow up, she called again. Quartz says she still didn’t hear back from the police.

Quartz says that the fact that she performs in different cities every night makes reaching out to law enforcement difficult. Police in one city can’t necessarily do anything about activities that happen outside of their jurisdiction. Because of the highly public nature of her work, Quartz says she feels like there’s a target on her back.

“People know exactly where I am at all points. I do events across Ontario; they’re all different venues, they have their date, location,” Quartz explains. “And I just feel very insecure, with all these threats coming out, about my job safety right now.”

With the event fast approaching and no word from law enforcement, Quartz and the staff at Kelsey’s grew concerned. When Quartz noticed that one of the people who was calling to disrupt her event had bought tickets, she realized how serious these people really were.

“Eventually [the restaurant management] got so scared at Kelsey’s that they just cancelled the show,” says Quartz.

Quartz was shaken by the attention from hate-mongers and disappointed to have lost a night’s pay. She hoped that since the event had been cancelled, the campaign would be a one-off and would blow over. Weeks later, Quartz became aware of the threatened disruption of Hexe Noire’s Drag Storytime event.

Hours after posting the video, Quartz received a call from Guelph Police Service. The following day, Guelph Police Service posted a photo to their own Instagram account notifying readers that Guelph Police Service “is aware of a video that is making its way through various social media platforms … that depicts an individual requesting assistance for threats received.” The caption also notes that the individual has been contacted and an “investigation has been initiated.”

Quartz says she is relieved that her calls for help have been answered and that the Guelph Police Service appears to be taking action. However, Quartz feels that more should be done ahead of time to protect drag performers and the people who attend their events.

“Why do we have to wait for things to get violent before we can stop them?” she asks.

In a statement emailed to Xtra, a representative from Guelph Police Service wrote that they had “not received complaints about groups planning to ‘protest’ or ‘target’ LGBTQ+ events aside from those reported by Crystal Quartz.” The representative did not comment on the complaints made by Quartz. 

Quartz says she is now on high alert. Not only is she keeping an eye on who is buying tickets to her events, she’s also watching the crowd while she performs.

“Now, when I’m going to venues, I’m looking at people, watching their pockets to see if they have guns on them, watching where the exits are,” she says.

Though her career started in gay clubs, Quartz now primarily performs in mainstream bars and family-friendly restaurants. For her, performing in venues that are not explicitly for LGBTQ2S+ folks is essential to her drag philosophy. Quartz says she wants to be able to create spaces that make people feel safe and loved wherever she goes.

“I don’t feel like I should have to work at a gay bar to do the job that I do,” says Quartz. “I want to create these spaces so that drag is seen like being a guitar player.”

Quartz is grateful for the outpouring of support she’s received after posting the video. Hundreds of supporters showed up to the Drag Storytime event hosted by Hexe Noire on November 24, with many standing outside to ensure the attendees’ safety.

“I just want people to feel safe to come to shows, that’s all,” says Quartz. “I don’t think that’s the hardest thing to ask for.”

Emma Arkell (she/her) is a multimedia journalist whose work focuses on labour, social movements and cities. You can find her work in PressProgress, Briarpatch and others. She lives in Vancouver and speaks English.

Keep Reading

Side by side images of author Lauren Cook and his book Sex Goblin. The book is on a yellow background.

Lauren Cook on naive narrators, ‘just chilling’ and loving love

The author’s new book, “Sex Goblin,” is a collection of short prose about violence, sexuality and trying to process life 

Can anyone dethrone Chappell Roan for queer song of the summer?

Is “Good Luck, Babe!” destined to be this year’s Pride anthem?

Zoe Whittall on writing sex scenes, capturing trauma and what people get wrong about queer femmes

In “Wild Failure,” the poet and novelist challenges queer femme erasure in fiction
The Time Magazine cover with Laverne Cox on it that says "The transgender tipping point: America's next civil rights frontier. By Katy Steinmetz" in black and white, surrounded by clocks under a blue filter.

10 years since the ‘transgender tipping point’

ANALYSIS: Ten years after the iconic ‘TIME’ cover, trans people are subject to even more widespread hatred and legalized bigotry. If we’ve ‘tipped’ in any direction, it’s backward