Before Uprising Bakery and Cafe was vandalized for hosting a drag show, owner Corinna Sac was faced with threats – against her, her family and her business – and wondered if it was all worth it.
In a conversation with her mother, Carisa Bendel, Sac was looking for guidance and didn’t know if she should continue with the event or others like it. She was “teetering,” her mother said.
“She’s always been a humanitarian and stood up for what’s right, but I don’t think she sought this out,” Bendel said. “She feels she has every right to do what she’s doing, and she feels like she’s supporting a community whose being attacked.”
While Sac began her bakery business in part to provide goods to everyone at the same price, regardless of dietary restrictions, her Lake in the Hills bakery has grown into an advocate for the LGTBQ community, and, as Sac puts it, everyone in and out of that umbrella.
“I think it just stems from who I am and what I believe in,” Sac said. “When I see injustices or a void in the community, I just feel like I have to fill it.”
Growing up in Crystal Lake, Sac, 31, said she’s stubborn – her mother prefers the term tenacious – and doesn’t take anything lying down. Sac, who said she’s always been openly bisexual, said she lacks a true coming out story because she never felt the urge to hide herself, despite reservations from some family members.
“I was always open and out and in your face,” said Sac, who currently is married with children.
That attitude has carried over into her business. Through UpRising, which began out of her home as Desserts by Corinna in 2017, Sac has pushed for awareness and progress in a number of areas.
Sporting almost 0% food waste and being animal cruelty free, Sac has used her business to draw attention to issues like climate change.
“Save our planet, there is no planet B,” according to the bakery’s website.
Another pillar, and perhaps the first one of UpRising, was to offer the same products at the same price to everyone no matter their food allergies or diets – be it vegan, gluten-free, traditional, keto or sugar-free.
“That’s where our core belief of equality stems from,” she said. “I have always felt … everybody should have the same options and pay the same price.”
It wasn’t initially that activism, though, that brought Sac and UpRising an inordinate amount of attention in recent months.
To help her bakery’s revenue streams, Sac in December 2021 began hosting a number of different events, including live music, poetry and cake-decorating classes, to name a few. One event was a ticketed drag show brunch where children were invited. Sac said she’s always loved drag shows and wanted to host one at her bakery to get more of the community involved.
“She didn’t get into drag shows for her politics,” Bendel said of her daughter. “She wasn’t trying to be a hero for the LGBTQ community.”
After announcing the event in early July, she received backlash almost immediately. Sac said she woke up the morning after to almost 150 fake reviews across her bakery’s social media pages. She also received numerous negative emails and phone calls, she said.
Much of the criticism argues that children should not be invited to drag shows, oftentimes saying they are innately sexual and not meant for kids.
Within the next three weeks, this escalated to bags of feces and signs saying pedophiles work here left outside the bakery, Sac said.
The harassment culminated in the shop being vandalized the night before the show was supposed to take place. Its windows were broken, and its exterior brick was spray-painted with anti-gay slurs.
Sac herself was inundated with both overwhelming harassment and support, and she worried about her and her family’s safety. She had multiple conversations at the time about whether to cancel the event completely, she said.
Sac decided to stand her ground and “fight for myself, my employees and my customers.”
“I felt like that was giving into bullies and bigotry, and that’s something I don’t like or tolerate in my life,” she said. “You’re basically saying these people are lesser. They’re lying about them saying they’re pedophiles or groomers. And I wasn’t going to stand for that.”
The ordeal also brought many customers out to back the bakery, and the plywood that covered the windows after the vandalism now are on the shop’s wall, filled with messages from those who visited expressing their support for the bakery.
Woodstock resident Kelsey Waughon was one customer who first found UpRising in July when everything broke out.
“The constant protests and harassment this bakery is receiving are outrageous,” she said. “It makes me want to support them more.”
Many people, particularly in the LGBTQ community, have sought out the bakery as a place they can go to feel safe. One person who frequents UpRising has a 9-year-old transgender daughter. He said the bakery is helpful because there aren’t many places that are both open consistently and family-friendly.
The customer asked to remain anonymous for this article over concerns for his daughter’s safety.
“There are some Facebook groups for people to meet and get to know each other,” he said. “But it doesn’t lend itself to kid-friendly. It’s just kind of get-togethers.”
Going to UpRising allows him and his daughter to socialize with others who are transgender or part of the LGBTQ community.
“It’s hard to meet other transgender people,” he said. “UpRising is the only place that is there and open regularly.”
Other events have also become controversial for the bakery, said Sac, who also protested at her children’s school for better remote learning and made cookies promoting women’s rights following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The bakery in recent months served a distribution site for the monkeypox vaccine. McHenry County Department of Health spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said the department approached UpRising after several community partners recommended it as a place close to those at high risk for the virus.
The decision to hold a clinic led to more scrutiny.
What started a public service devolved into a similar song and dance that took place with the drag show, Sac said. While the event happened with no problems, a lot of anti-gay and anti-vaccine reaction was part of the lead up to it.
This time, an employee quit over the backlash.
The threat is always there, Sac said. She said some have tried to target her children as well. One email she got contained photos of her pets and their names asking how they might be to eat.
In response, Sac has taken self-defense classes, taken active shooter training, installed security cameras and made sure people are always with her children. Now, she feels she’s doing better with her safety.
“I’ve kind of become a little numb to it,” her mother said. “But sometimes the weight of it all comes back to you.”
Moving forward, the bakery continues to battle remnants of who objected to the drag event. A couple of protesters have committed to standing outside of the bakery for the foreseeable future. A recent Village Board meeting at Lake in the Hills drew north of 80 people who showed up to either support or condemn her business.
Sac was at the meeting as well holding up a sign that advocated for equality, but she did not speak.
It was another signal for Sac to show she isn’t intending to go away. With six years left on a seven-year lease in her spot, she said she intends to stick around and continue hosting events, even if some disagree with them.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” she said. “[The protesters outside] are eventually going to get cold, or bored, or broke, and they’re going to have to go home.”