Armed militia shows up to San Antonio drag show, is met with even more counter-protesters

The counter-protesters, some of whom were armed, outnumbered the right-wing militants by three to one.

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click to enlarge People lined both sides of North St. Mary's Street Tuesday outside of the Aztec Theatre. - Michael Karlis
Michael Karlis
People lined both sides of North St. Mary's Street Tuesday outside of the Aztec Theatre.
Hundreds of people descended on downtown San Antonio Tuesday night, some to protest a Christmas-themed drag show at the Aztec Theatre — and even more show solidarity and support for the city's LGBTQ+ community.

Several dozen heavily armed members of This Is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF), described as a right-wing extremist militia by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, made a highly publicized appearance to demonstrate against the touring production, which it accused of "grooming" children.

The other side, which outnumbered the militia members by three to one, was made up of a coalition of LGBTQ+ San Antonians, their allies and anti-fascist protesters. Some of the counter-protesters also were armed.

The demonstrators stood on opposite sides of North St. Mary's Street, which remained open to traffic. San Antonio police were also present, watching as the crowds gathered.

"Tonight, we're to stand up against underage kids being allowed into drag shows," TITFF President Brandon Burkhart told the Current. "That being said, we're also working with State Rep. Bryan Slaton[,R-Frisco], with a bill that will ban underage kids from these drag shows. So, I wanted our guys to be out here tonight and get first-hand knowledge because they're going to be testifying in front of the Senate and the House on this bill, and I want them to have first-hand knowledge of what happens at these drag shows."

The show, A Drag Queen Christmas, which is visiting 36 cities, wasn't marketed as an all-ages or children's event. It includes performers who have appeared on the popular television program RuPaul’s Drag Race.

"It's important that all of our community, the LGBTQ community, the drag community and all marginalized communities know that they have a voice on the dais and that they know they are going to have people out here with them when they're faced with a task," said District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, explaining his decision to join the counter-protesters.

McKee-Rodriguez, who is gay, said he's been working with other council members to pass an expanded nondiscrimination ordinance. He said he also expects council to have a roundtable discussion about Tuesday's protest.

TITFF's protest is among a growing number staged by right-wing groups, which have erroneously maintained that all drag shows are sexually explicit. Many of those protesters make unsubstantiated claims that members of the LGBTQ+ community use the shows to gain access to children.

Civil-rights advocates argue that the rise in protests against drag shows is an effort to remove safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people and to further marginalize members of the community.

Queen Fantasia, a San Antonio drag performer there to protest against TITFF's presence, called such the right-wing claims about drag shows baseless, adding that the events aren't even inherently LGBTQ+.

"Drag is just an art form; it's a profession. Everything else, the lived lives of people, has nothing to do with that," said Queen Fantasia, who doesn't even identify as LGBTQ+. "A lot of people do think that everyone's LGBTQ just because we dress up as women most of the time and because drag is a feminine art form, but that doesn't mean that every person doing it identifies as gay or identifies as trans. It's just the difference between a life and a job."

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