On Sunday, the biggest comic book store in North America, located in northwest Denver, hosted its monthly family-friendly drag show–a colorful event that’s drawn aggressive protests from hate organizations and right-wing religious activists.
This time, though, the demonstration was limited to four resolute Catholics quietly praying from across the street.
But the Parasol Patrol – an umbrella-wielding volunteer group dedicated to shielding young drag performers from protesters – was out in full force.
“This is our inaugural event,” said Parasol Patrol co-founder Pasha Eve. “We come to it every month.”
The Parasol Patrol’s aim is to form an effective barrier between young drag performers and the tense, sometimes violent protests that often surround their shows.
Eve said protesters have “deliberately” traumatized the school-age cast of drag performers who come to Mile High Comics on Sundays.
In addition to “scary masks,” Eve said protesters often “come out in full riot gear with shields, helmets and maglites that weigh ten pounds.”
She said it has been several months since protesters had meaningfully disturbed the event, but the zealous tactics clearly had a lasting impact.
“They’re afraid of what they’re not familiar with,” Eve said of public objectors, whose ranks have included members of Anonymous and former members of the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Workers Party.
“From the very highest echelons down, there’s homophobia, there’s racism,” Eve said. “There’s so much hate being spewed out there that it makes a lot of these people feel safe to come out of the closet with their own vitriol to spew at children.”
“We Are Not Security”
“We are not security,” said Eli Bazan, a kilt-clad former Marine and Parasol Patrol co-founder. “We’re out here just to make sure the kids in our events get from their cars to the inside of the event and afterwards, if they’re still here, we walk them back out also.”
At Mile High Comics’ first all-ages drag show in March, Bazan paid to provide ear protection for young performers.
“I came out here the first time, just myself, walked a few kids past protesters,” he said. “The next month we had a few parents chip in. Then three months later we had over a hundred folks out here.”
“It just kind of evolved from me wanting to make sure kids don’t get yelled at by neo-fascists to what it’s become,” he said.
Now, the Parasol Patrol officially exists under the umbrella of Red Light Resources International – a 501(c)(3) founded by Eve to provide support to victims of human trafficking.
Bazan was happy that many protesters have apparently lost interest in the Mile High Comics event, but some of the store’s first family-friendly drag performances were truly contentious affairs.
“We’ve only had it come to violence once. There were some milkshakes thrown,” Bazan said, which caused a scuffle.
He “took a riot shield to the head that day.”
“Because this is private property,” Eve said the protesters “are not allowed on the property.”
She said that’s not the case for events held in publicly-funded venues like libraries or recreation centers.
“It’s different, because they can get just as close as anybody else can,” Eve said. “They can go into a library and yell at kids.”
Mile High Comics is also essentially a house of books, but it’s a Denver institution blatantly and unapologetically dedicated to LGBTQ rights.
A rainbow footbridge fords the abandoned train tracks which separate the store from its parking lot. The building’s front porch has the same color scheme.
“The owner himself is gender fluid and a drag queen,” Eve said, who is “super supportive of the community and not easily intimidated.”
Chuck Rozanski, who goes by Bettie Pages when he’s in drag, began selling comics out his parents’ Colorado Springs garage at age 13 in 1969. In 1991, the Boulder resident opened his 11,000 square-foot comic book warehouse on Jason Street.
“Bettie Pages is magnificent,” Eve said.
In addition to being “blingalicious,” Eve said that Rozanski’s alter ego “makes it a point every time there are protesters out there just to go… stand and smile and be lovely and fabulous and beautiful and not intimidated.”
Comic books are clearly an important common denominator for the Parasol Patrol. Eve said she and Bazan are both “big nerds” who regularly attend comic conventions to educate the community about issues surrounding gender and sexuality.
The “Sexualization of Children”
Keri Kuenz, one of the four Catholics praying from the other side of Jason Street, had a very different assessment of Rozanski.
“The owner of this comic book club, he dresses up as a very baroque, grotesque, hyper-sexualized woman,” she said.
In general, Kuenz took issue with the aesthetic many drag queens traffic in, which she dubbed “hoe’d out” in her native Los Angeles parlance.
Kuenz, who described herself as familiar with the LGBTQ community, wondered why more drag queens didn’t dress like her – in a headscarf with long sleeves and a skirt which went past her ankles.
At various points, Kuenz brought up trans-exclusionary radical feminism, which she regarded as the original feminism. She believed that on the issue of child drag performances, she would be aligned with the ideology on some levels.
Her group, which consisted of three other parishioners from Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Littleton, was particularly incensed by the “sexualization of children.”
Kuenz viewed drag events as inherently sexual affairs – a point she said was bolstered by a drag queen who agreed and joined her in protest.
Bazan, on the other hand, saw things differently.
“We aren’t grooming children for sex, we aren’t trying to change them and turn them gay,” he said. “We’re just trying to open their eyes a little bit.”
Benjamin Mills, another one of the parishioners from Littleton, had been coming out to protest at Mile High Comics for months.
“There’s been people with bullhorns and stuff,” he said. “We’re just here to pray.”
He and his compatriots were cordial and restrained. They had no interest in yelling at people from across the street.
“We’re not here to make a point. We’re not here to prove a point. We’re here to pray for… the parents, the performers, the kids,” Mills said. “Nobody here, in this group, wants to yell at people.”
Back on the other side of Jason Street, the dozens of Parasol Patrol members who came to support were unfazed by the prayer group across the way.
A group of musicians who called themselves “Pep Band Le Pew” cranked out tinny, jovial renditions of popular tunes.
The rest of Parasol Patrol remained lined up with their bright umbrellas as the young drag performers and their families began to arrive.
Overall, the group seemed happy if not a little bored as the drag show’s 6 p.m. start time crept closer and the sun set over the gritty, grey Mile High Comics warehouse.
Updated on January 31, 2020 for clarity surrounding Keri Kuenz’s positions.