A planned drag show hosted by UpRising Bakery and Cafe in Lake in the Hills has induced a wave of harassment and vandalism against the cafe, creating a “new and scary” dynamic for cafe staff and patrons, said owner Corinna Bendel-Sac.
Since the event, open to audiences from all ages, was announced on July 6, the cafe has been subject to a spree of fake negative reviews, angry phone calls and social media messages, while in-person vandalism has included excrement left at the doorstep, a sign aimed at employees with a threatening message. Even a man who entered the store and spit on the bakery display case.
Despite the attacks, Bendel-Sac and the performers said they would not back down, and the event will occur as planned on Saturday, July 23.
“Our staff is 100% invested in this,” Bendel-Sac said. “We have people who work here who identify as LGBTQ, and all of us are allies. We stand for equality for everyone, and we just want to have a fun and safe event.”
The cafe has also received support from the community equal or greater than the harassment they’ve received, Bendel-Sac said. Plus, the show is sold out.
Performer and show producer Jakki Love, one of three performers at the UpRising Show - the others are Krystal Ball Diva and Venus - said the trio was “digging our heels in, pun intended,” and that the show would entail “nothing serious, just dress-up and dancing,” as befit a show for all age groups.
Nevertheless, the pushback was more than normal, Love said, for performances around Elgin and the outer Chicago suburbs.
“This is my first time dealing with hate on this big a level,” Love said. “With strangers saying stuff about us. It worries me. But I have an attitude that I can’t back down.”
The negative reaction was uncomfortable, Love said, but also a source of incredulous, bittersweet laughter.
“Why are people so mad at this?” Love said. “Why the outrage?”
Love said fear of hypersexuality was a major misconception about drag performances, which like any other art form, can take on many different styles.
UpRising, which opened last November, has been dealing with continual issues related to inflation, and events such as the drag show are important. The cafe can attract customers and build revenue, in addition to supporting local artists, Bendel-Sac said.
“We get [negative] comments when we post about broccoli soup,” Bendel-Sac said. “Someone will say, ‘Eww, broccoli, it’s summertime.’ But nobody thought it would be this extreme.”
The attacks against UpRising appear to be a resurgent development nationally, based off criticism of drag “story hours” and fears - and hopes - the Supreme Court will weigh in on gay marriage rights. Bigotry has been an issue in the past, said Melissa McMahon, vice president of Woodstock Pride, which puts on an annual festival during Pride Month.
McMahon, who is also the marketing manager for the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, said Woodstock Pride helped organize the first drag show in that city four years ago at the now-closed venue Mixin Mingle. Those shows included two of the queens performing Saturday night at UpRising.
“We got quite a bit of backlash,” McMahon said of the Woodstock drag shows, which like the UpRising event, were open to all ages. “We got some letters sent to the venue. Some things were left at my house. So I’ve experienced it.”
While the antagonism was more than McMahon initially expected, she said the key to overcoming the bigotry was to not back down, continue putting on events, and inevitably the backlash would dissipate once it was clear it was ineffective.
“People are loud in the beginning,” McMahon said. “But eventually it fizzles out. They’re keyboard cowboys. Love just has to be louder than the hate.”
There have been a variety of comments on social media about the show and the bakery.
Hampshire resident Eric Clark, wrote, “men dressing up as women while they dance and sing is not normal, no matter what you think.”
“I have zero issues with people who dress in drag as I have been to a drag show before and it was fun,” Algonquin resident Jennifer Chrostowski wrote in a post on Facebook. “But not for children in attendance.”
Another venue that hosts weekly drag shows, Cantina 52 in Crystal Lake, has been well received by patrons and hasn’t faced any harassment, the manager said.
While drag is its own genre of art form, McMahon said it promotes acceptance and visibility of LGBTQ members within a community, in addition to entertainment value.
Love said after nearly all performances, someone will come to them to thank them for being a positive, openly queer performer. Observing drag had a similar effect on their own life, Love said.
“Drag has helped me in so many aspects of my life,” Love said. “It taught me to love myself.”
Love, who credits television’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for inspiring them to feel like they could thrive in life and as a performer. The view their drag personas are “gorgeous,” in contrast to the discomfort they felt growing up.
“I just never felt like I was a part of the group,” Love said. “I felt ostracized for being queer.”
Latent harassment of the LGBTQ community is unfortunately still common, no matter what the context, McMahon said.
“Understand LGBTQ members face this on a daily basis,” McMahon said. “It seems crazy to some people here. The bakery is not doing anything more than accepting their friends and neighbors. Our advice is just keeping doing what you’re doing.”
Love said they were in constant contact with the other performers and Bendel-Sac, making sure everyone felt safe and comfortable about the weekend show.
“This is why visibility is so important,” Love said. “We exist, we matter, and we are not to be victimized. We’re going to slay.”
While local groups have threatened to hold protests outside the venue, Saturday’s event will have both private security and Lake in the Hills police on the scene to protect patrons, performers and employees.
“I’ve never encountered this ever,” Bendel-Sac said. “This isn’t what we wanted at all. But I’m very proud, our customers are sticking up for us, we want to provide a safe space for allies, for families, and we support those who are crusading for us.”
The Lake in the Hills Police Department released a statement Tuesday staying the department was investigating the previous incidents at the cafe and that they would take a “zero-tolerance” approach to anyone disrupting the event or engaging in violence or criminal activity.
For more information about upcoming events, interested readers can go to https://www.uprisingbakeryandcafe.com/.