Fighting broke out after several hours of tense protests in front of Old Nick’s Pub in Eugene on Sunday, with division over defending or attacking the pub for hosting a drag story time event with an 11-year-old performer.
Some 250 people lined the sidewalks next to the pub on Washington Street to support the pub and event. About 50 protesters were on the opposite sidewalk.
The conflict began a week ago after online commenters and right-wing personalities caught wind of the drag show and accused the event of sexualizing children who perform in it. A protest was organized targeting the pub, and in response, community members planned a counterprotest titled “Eugene stands against hate.”
In a Facebook statement Friday, the pub said those outraged at the event have “twisted what is a fun and innocent event for kids and families into something disgusting and vile.”
Supporters Sunday shouted: “This is what protecting kids looks like,” “Go home Nazis,” and six people held a large banner reading “Protect trans youth.”
The protesters held signs that read: “What kind of monster exposes kids to this” and several yelled, “Save our children.”
After arriving a little before 10 a.m., both sides began drifting into the middle of Washington Street, which Eugene Police closed off at 11 a.m. Officers did not try to stop either group’s protest but staged police cars around the area and several on the nearly Interstate 105 overpass.
It was a festive scene inside the pub, where the 11-year-old drag performer Vanellope Macpherson Dupont was the show’s guest of honor instead of performing.
The pub was packed with more than 50 people, including families with small children who cheered as several drag queens performed songs and read picture books.
Jamie Roberts, who goes by the drag queen name Princess Maliena, started crying while introducing the first act of the all-ages drag story time event and thanked Dupont, who had a front row seat on a couch with her family.
“Thank you guys for showing her, at this young age, love,” Roberts said to the crowd. “She needs this, and she really loves drag and doing what she does. Your support for her is going to overshadow any of the hate out there.”
Several of the protesters said it’s wrong to have children perform drag and to be in the audience. McKayla Babcock, a Eugene resident, said she has no issue with kids being interested in drag but that she doesn’t think it’s appropriate to perform it to a crowd.
“They’re putting children on stage where this is a child, and grown men and women can go there, and you don’t know what kind of fetish or things they have in their mind are,” Babcock said, attending with her 11-year-old daughter.
Several men in masks protesting against the pub declined to speak with The Register-Guard.
Elektra Star, another performer at the drag show, said the the importance of the event is allowing children to be who they are, and that online hate was trying to mischaracterize the event to stir controversy.
“They’re the ones sexualizing the child by putting it into that perspective in the first place,” she said.
The pub hired security guards for the event, and one Eugene Police Department officer was stationed inside, monitoring security cameras and the nearby area.
At around 12:30 p.m., the crowd of protesters began retreating down the street and left in their cars.
At one point, both sides were seen throwing rocks and smoke grenades at each other, and at least one person on both sides was hit in the face with pepper spray. there were no arrests.
Several protesters were seen carrying what appeared to be assault rifles, and there were armed participants police identified in both groups, EPD said in a news release.