Charlie Kirk event in Crystal Lake sparks protest, shouting match

Both those in favor and against the event Saturday said children and schools are the priority

Patrick Sheridan, who said he's with the group Gays Against Groomers, gets into a shouting match with protesters on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, outside the Holiday Inn in Crystal Lake. A speaking event that hosted conservative activist Charlie Kirk was held at the hotel and drew protesters.

Crystal Lake resident Joyce Sheridan said she’s worried about her grandchildren.

It was a sentiment shared by both protesters and attendees of an event Saturday at the Holiday Inn in Crystal Lake, featuring prominent conservative activist and radio host Charlie Kirk.

Sheridan, who was there to listen to Kirk while accompanied by Alice Babcock, also of Crystal Lake, said she hopes the event will bring more awareness to the material being given children in schools, which both she and Babcock said they felt was inappropriate because of potentially being controversial or sexual. She also said parents should have more say.

“It feels like they’re shoving kids into a certain way of thinking,” Sheridan said.

Ahead of Kirk’s event on Saturday morning, a protest took place on the outskirts of the Holiday Inn parking lot. It drew about 30 people and featured chants calling for Kirk to go away and for the community to protect transgender children.

It feels like they’re shoving kids into a certain way of thinking.”

—  Crystal Lake resident Joyce Sheridan

Cary resident Cindy Pilz said the goal of the protest was to show that McHenry County teachers, students and school boards were supported in the work they were doing. She said she feels those at the seminar want to “tear down” the schools.

“This is not how you fix things,” Pilz said. “You get involved. All this is doing is amping up anger.”

Kirk’s address was organized by the McHenry County GOPac, a local conservative political action committee. The event was titled “EXPOSING Radicals’ War on Kids” and was advertised as a summit aimed at “rescuing children from government-run schools that are ruining America’s future.”

Karen Tirio, the committee’s chair, said earlier in the week that school districts play a key role both in and out of the classroom and are “failing us.” She said she didn’t feel the event was partisan and hoped those attending walk away with tools to help them engage with the system.

Tirio also sits on the elected McHenry County Regional Board of School Trustees.

Among a list of speakers, its biggest draw was Kirk, who grew up in Prospect Heights and founded the conservative organization Turning Point USA, which seeks to engage young conservatives on college campuses.

One of those at the event, Patrick Sheridan, is the Illinois chapter leader for Gays Against Groomers, which describes itself as a “coalition of gays against the sexualization, indoctrination and medicalization of children.”

“The woke person will call me a fascist, however the woke person is a mirror image of the actual fascist,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan, who said part of his role within the overall movement is being loud, began at one point roaming through the protesters with a boombox and got into a shouting match with them. He frequently referred to them as being part of a religion or a cult. Some protesters said they felt the same way about him.

Lisa Arvanites with the McHenry County National Organization for Women, helped organize the protest. After attempts to get the hotel to cancel the event, she said she hoped the protest would show the hotel that community did not support it.

She said she felt the event was promoting “an undeniably hateful message” and was censoring teachers.

Ruth Burlini, a teacher in McHenry County, was one of the protesters at the event.

She said she doesn’t feel teachers are imposing values on students and instead are supporting members of the LGBTQIA+ – an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning and asexual – community, but nothing beyond that.

“There are no values being pushed,” she said. “That’s not happening in schools.”

Cary resident Cortney Fowles, who has children in school and was attending the event on Saturday, said she feels different. She feels certain viewpoints are being pushed down in favor of others.

“I just don’t like that I can’t have a voice in what my children are learning,” Fowles said. “It’s gotten away from your basics.”