Members, allies and critics of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa and the LGBTQ community surrounded the church’s driveway Saturday either to protest or protect what was happening inside: a children’s story time with a drag queen.
Fairview began hosting Autumn Rose for monthly readings in July. The first event was sleepy, said pastor Sarah Halverson-Cano. The next one, in August, drew opponents.
The church got wind of the plans of a protest through social media and brought in security, which they enhanced with more volunteer watchers and a winding wall of tarps, sheets and umbrellas to shield families as they entered the facility.
Security and legal observers outnumbered the roughly half-dozen protesters who came and went over about two hours. One person volunteered to DJ a “dance party” on the lawn behind the fluttering tarp wall, which drowned out protesters’ exhortations with Beyonce and Elton John.
Neon-clad security guards and legal observers kept watch on the small demonstration. Several children wore masquerade masks to protect their identities in protesters’ photos and videos, Halverson-Cano said. One child, about 8, parted two sheets like curtains and held out a sheet of notebook paper scrawled with “equality.”
Beverly Welch said she protested the event because she believes “it is not only the indoctrination but sexualization of young children.”
“With society, especially in California, pushing gender dysmorphia as normal [and] introducing children, who are already confused beyond belief, to a man, dressed as a woman and treating it as normal, is unacceptable,” she said. “Drag was created as adult entertainment, period. Children are children for a very short time, we need to allow them to stay children.”
Another protester, with a wearable voice amplifier and a Bible full of bookmarks, quoted scripture and denounced homosexuality.
“This driveway is an open gate to a sepulcher,” he called out.
The demonstration and any altercations appeared to stay verbal. Police came during the last few minutes to help keep the driveway clear for departing traffic, although most attendees had already left.
Fairview Community Church is a member of the progressive United Church of Christ. The small campus on Fairview Road flies a rainbow LGBTQ pride flag and a Black Lives Matter banner and was at the forefront of performing same-sex marriages after they were first legal statewide.
Abel Sanchez is not a church member but came to provide security because his nephew, who is involved with the LGBT Center Orange County, asked him to help. Sanchez stepped in when he felt protesters were heckling two teenagers carrying pride flags.
“I’m doing this to support my nephew,” he said.
Nicole and Martin Frost brought their 4-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter to see Autumn Rose, the reigning Miss OC Pride, read picture books from the pulpit area in a sequined gown, blonde wavy wig and towering tiara.
The Frosts, who are not religious, said they told their older child that some people didn’t like what was happening inside the church. They did not tell him exactly why.
The boy does understand that a drag queen is a man in a dress, but he sees the story hour as a dress-up party time event with an entertainer like a clown, his mother said. He offered Autumn Rose presents — a gift card to Sephora to buy more makeup and a purse with a hand-painted portrait of the queen in character.
Frost said she has taken the kids to a drag queen story time in Los Angeles without issue but at last month’s Fairview event the opponents took photos of kids, surrounded cars pulling out of the parking lot and shouted about child molesters, she said.
“This is terrorism,” she said. “The desire to create fear to get your way.”
Martin Frost joined his family when he heard there were protesters. He said he wanted to show solidarity with the church.
“I’m not worried. I’m not afraid,” he said. “I don’t think there is a lot of value in being scared.”
About 60 people of all ages showed up Saturday, but not as many kids this time, Halverson-Cano said. Some parents seemed intimidated, others invigorated, she said.
For a moment, she thought about canceling the event.
“There was a minute last time. They were so cruel,” she said. “But that only lasted a moment.”
The church will have another reading in October and a tea party in November.