This story was republished with permission from The Buckeye Flame
In a tweet on Dec. 22, 2021, U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel took aim at a Cleveland Drag Queen Story Hour event calling it “child abuse” and threatening that it “must be stopped.”
Near West Theatre in Cleveland is hosting “Drag Queen Story Hours” — for CHILDREN.
And @UHHospitals — the recipient of massive taxpayer funding — is sponsoring it.
This publicly funded insanity (and child abuse) must be stopped. pic.twitter.com/s8FvYsOHxS
— Josh Mandel (@JoshMandelOhio) December 22, 2021
Though he regularly employs homophobic and transphobic tactics, Mandel currently leads other Republican primary candidates in the race to replace outgoing U.S. Senator Rob Portman.
The latest Drag Queen Story Hour was held on December 18 at Cleveland’s Near West Theatre, and featured well-known Cleveland entertainer Veranda L’Ni reading such classics as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Snowy Day, alongside drag king Rhett Corvette. University Hospitals provided support via books and resources.
In a statement provided to The Buckeye Flame, Veranda L’Ni shared that Mandel’s tweet angered her.
Scare tactics rarely work on a drag entertainer, but calling a reading program promoting inclusivity and kindness ‘child abuse’ has really got me fuming mad. As chapter admin [for Drag Queen Story Hour], I strive to bring colorful, fun, and thoughtful storytelling to kids and families alike.
It’s funny how a voluntary non-profit reading program, hosted by a non-profit theatre, with the support of a non-profit hospital, gets under the skin of a political candidate whose only goal is to be as divisive as possible. What is not funny is that this candidate is the one who would like to try and remove any act of inclusion or self-expression from their potential constituents.
To Mr. Mandel: Maybe pick up a book about this. I could read it to you. You might learn something.
Ward 15 Cleveland City Councilmember Jenny Spencer was also in attendance at the December 18 performance, accompanying her 3-year-old niece and sister-in-law.
“I felt shaken after reading Josh Mandel’s tweet,” Spencer said. “The mission of Drag Queen Story Hour is to create a welcoming environment where aspiring readers can celebrate diversity and inclusion, and break the stigma around harmful gender stereotypes. My experience of [the event]was precisely that – and moreover, it was a heartwarming and joyful holiday experience for all who attended.”
Spencer also highlighted that Mandel’s tweet is at odds with the LGBTQ+ inclusivity of both Ward 15 —where the event took place — and Cleveland as a whole.
“It is a privilege to serve my Ward, where so many individuals and institutions – ranging from the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland to Studio West 117 to our theaters such as Near West Theatre – are co-creating a vibrant, welcoming, and open community,” Spencer said. “The City of Cleveland has a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index. I and my Cleveland City Council colleagues will continue to promote policies that advance LGBTQ+ equality in Cleveland and in Ohio.”
Near West Theatre Executive Director, Michael Obertacz echoed Spencer’s statement about inclusion, and added that Mandel’s “public discrimination and hateful rhetoric” was “disheartening.”
“Near West Theatre is proud to partner with the national 501c3 Drag Queen Story Hour, Veranda L’Ni and her many compassionate and talented performers to create an inclusive, loving and safe space for children and families,” Obertacz said. “Our program presents stories of acceptance and tolerance and everyone goes home with a book to read together as a family promoting early childhood literacy. It is disheartening that Mr. Mandel and his team would resort to public discrimination and hateful rhetoric for a little attention and retweets. Referring to this programming as child abuse is offensive, ignorant, and irresponsible. Furthermore, he ignores the very real and documented abuse, violence, bullying and heartbreaking suicide rates of LGBTQ+ youth. He would do much better to practice positive leadership skills and focus on strategies to unite rather than divide us. “
Veranda L’Ni highlights that readers can support Drag Queen Story Hour by contributing to the Near West Theatre, a nonprofit that “builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity, passion, and purpose, individually and in community, through accessible, affordable and transformational theatre arts experiences.”
Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He is the author of “Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew” (2017), “LGBTQ Cleveland” (2018), “LGBTQ Columbus” (2019), and “LGBTQ Cincinnati” (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.