Chardon Drag Show Brings Controversy


Opposition groups stand across the street from the restaurant. (Bob Rich)

Connor Mosher, Business Manager

On the morning of April 1, 2023, drag queens were escorted by police into local Chardon restaurant Element 41 to entertain at a newly-organized drag brunch. What was set up to be a calm and fun event became tense and political, with hate groups working against it.


The Community Church of Chesterland (CCC) runs its congregation on being open and inclusive. According to their website, they have been welcoming to LGBTQIA+ for over 30 years. The church was even a leader in the Civil Rights Movement during the mid-1900s and had its first female minister in 1930.


“We have only been doing drag events since Geauga Pride last year,” said Megan Carver. She is the social justice and outreach co-chair at the church, as well as the financial secretary.


“Element 41 is just our partner and venue,” Carver said. “We came to them asking if they would be willing [to host].”


Back in June of 2022, Geauga Pride, a city organized pride and acceptance celebration, hosted a drag show on the square for the very first time. There was nearly no major opposition at the event. The CCC began hosting drag events around this time.


Drag queens pose for a photo after the story hour. (Rebecca Gorski)

On the night of March 24, 2023, a 20-year-old named Aimenn Penny destroyed the church’s sign and threw Molotov cocktails into the building. It damaged signs and doors, but no one was inside, and the rain stopped the fire from spreading. Penny was arrested Friday and admitted to the crime. Upon investigation, the FBI reportedly found weapons and Nazi propaganda in his home.


The Cleveland Proud Boys arranged a protest against the drag shows, with the slogans “Rally Against Groomers” and “It’s Gonna Be Wild.” Some claim to be against drag for religious reasons.


Drag supporters fly a transgender rights flag outside of Element 41.

“The people coming to protest are not from here,” said Mallory McMaster. “They just want attention. They’re not actually focused on LGBTQ issues.”


McMaster is an event planner with The Fairmount Group for LGBTQIA+ and social justice events. She is helping the CCC and Element 41 with security and running the drag events.


“I am very, very firmly telling people that we are leaving the Proud Boys alone,” said McMaster. “I want to leave the police to that.”


On Thursday morning, the police department recommended that the drag events be called off for the safety of the participants, drag queens, and anyone else involved. Quickly after that recommendation, the drag organizers sent out a counter statement to say that the events will continue and to ask for support and peace.

Barriers are placed outside of Element 41 to protect the restaurant. (Shauna Rich)

That night, a candlelight vigil was held on the square. The goal was to promote peace for Saturday and create a calming and community environment. Reverand Jess Peacock of The Community Church of Chesterland lead a prayer for the dozens of people who came along with other community speakers.


On April 1, the drag brunch commenced on the square with no major issues. Anyone over the age of 18 with a ticket could get into the brunch, but all other supporters were asked to stay home for their safety. Supportive clergy stood outside to calm the crowds along with other counter protestors. The Patriot Front and other opposition groups did show up to the event but stood mostly on the inside of the square across from the restaurant and stayed very briefly. They carried flags and yelled out toward the public. 

Police snipers stand on the roof above Element 41. (Bob Rich)

Hundreds of police officers were armed around the square in case of an emergency and fencing barriers were placed in front of Element 41 to protect the front of the building. Highway patrolmen, snipers and personal security guards were also present. Anti-fascists, clergy and other support groups came to stand for the drag show, as well. 


Later, the drag story hour at the church brought only one lone protestor. Although the police still supervised the property, there were no issues.


“Young people need to see that adults are going to fight for them,” said McMaster. She sees the drag show and the drag story hour as ways of supporting young LGBTQIA+ members and showing them that they have a place in the world. 


“It shows that there are people in this community who welcome all,” said Carver. “Love wins in Geauga County.”