Drag show attracts groups of protesters and counterprotesters to Sandwich Opera House

LGBTQ supporters approach a drag show protester in front of the Sandwich Opera House on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

SANDWICH – Two sold-out drag shows drew groups of protesters and counterprotesters to the streets outside the historic Sandwich Opera House Saturday afternoon, Feb. 18.

After more than a month of controversy and heated comments at City Council meetings, Illusions Drag Show put on two performances for those 18 and older at 3 and 7 p.m. at the venue at 140 E. Railroad St. in the city’s downtown.

Directly across Railroad Street from the Opera House, is a small park with a gazebo at its center, owned by the Sandwich Park District.

One group, in protest of the drag show, gathered in the gazebo. Another group, in support of the show, gathered on the east side of the park.

Moer than 60 people positioned themselves along Railroad Street. About 40 were against the event, while about 20 showed their support.

Both groups held signs at opposite corners of the park facing the Opera House and played music through speakers for most of the afternoon.

Martha McAdams, who says she is in support of love and inclusion, talks with a fellow supporter in front of the Sandwich Opera House on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

Sandwich Police Chief Jim Bianchi said his department would be present, monitoring the event. DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office vehicles also were in the area.

The group protesting the event was led by Molly Krempski of Yorkville and Deb Peterson of Sandwich.

Peterson said the showing was a rally, not a protest, and the group was there to pray, not to impede the event in any way.

The group gathered in the gazebo to form a prayer circle, and Krempski gave the opening remarks.

Protesters of the Drag Show gather and pray under the gazebo at Veteran's Park across from the Sandwich Opera House on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

Krempski opened by quoting a psalm passage, saying that demons and principalities from the spirit realm had entered their dominion. She said their prayers would ask that God send his army to intercede.

After Krempski’s remarks, the group started singing religious songs while, at the same time, a member of the counterprotesters began playing an electric guitar through an amplifier.

The guitar was played by Brian Kubisak of Sandwich, who organized and led the counterprotest group. Kubisak said his group’s message was respect and dignity for the other side.

“This is a showing of inclusion,” Kubisak said. “We want everyone to know this is a good community.”

The group in protest of the event continued their prayer service by consecrating the park grounds and several members of their group. By the time the first show started, both groups were playing music through speakers in the park.

The counterprotesters marched across Railroad Street and paraded with signs around the block several times. Members of each group exchanged words upon passing, and several members stopped to argue at length multiple times.

LGBTQ supporter Laura Bobrowsky waves at drivers, while handing out pride flags in front of the Sandwich Opera House on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

Sandwich resident Ed Josefchuk sat outside the Opera House before the performance, waiting for the doors to open. He said he was aware of the controversy, and was unhappy with the protesters taking up all of the parking.

“It’s disappointing to see hate in the name of Jesus,” Josefchuk said.

Sandwich Alderwoman Rebecca Johnson, who first raised concern over the drag show at a Jan. 3 City Council meeting, was with the group protesting the event.

The show has been a topic of controversy at the past three City Council meetings. First on Jan. 3, second when eight people spoke on the topic during public comment Jan. 16, and last when nine people spoke at the Feb. 6 meeting. Johnson said she was denied entry to the show. She said while she didn’t want to attend the event, people who were upset about her stance against it insisted she see the performance.

Johnson showed up at the Opera House the day of the show and tried to buy a ticket, but was told that both shows were sold out.

Both protesters and counter-protesters gathered in front of the Sandwich Opera House as a drag show took place on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

Johnson said she was grateful for the group led by Peterson and Krempski and got emotional talking about the controversy.

“I feel like our country is moving in a way that’s really getting away from high morals,” Johnson said. “We’re breaking down and neighbors are fighting, and that’s the saddest part of all of this.”

Sandwich resident Deborah Guyer said after the show, that she loved the performance. She described it as a well-choreographed, lip-sync performance, and said she didn’t believe any city ordinances were violated.

Guyer said she felt the show was tame for Sandwich, and said it featured nothing suggestive and no nudity. “I saw nothing worse than if I were watching Disney or Nickelodeon.”