LGBTQ organization sees Aztec brewery fundraiser cancelled over threats issued against host

Aug. 12 all-ages event at 550 Brewing Taproom was to have included drag show

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Back to School Bash planned by Identity Inc. at the brewery was intended to raise cash and draw donations of school supplies for children and teachers.
  • It was cancelled after the brewery's owners and their family members reportedly were threatened.
  • Identity Inc. president Nicole Hall said she agreed with the decision to cancel the event in light of the threats.

FARMINGTON — A fundraiser organized by a Farmington LGBTQ organization that was scheduled to be held last week at an Aztec brewery was cancelled after the owners of the business reportedly received threats.

Nicole Hall, board president of Identity Inc., the Farmington-based nonprofit that was organizing the Aug. 12 fundraiser, said she received a call from one of the owners of the 550 Brewing Taproom at 119 E. Chuska St. in Aztec on Aug. 10 explaining that the business had received several threats from people apparently upset about the all-ages event including a drag show.

The Back to School Bash planned by Identity Inc. at the brewery was intended to raise cash and draw donations of school supplies for children and teachers, according to a flyer for the event posted on the organization's Facebook page. It included a $5 cover charge and featured a drag show, an open mic session, games and more.

But Hall said the brewery owner who called her Aug. 10 explained that she and other brewery representatives had been contacted through various means by people upset by the prospect of children being present for the drag show. Some who reached out to the brewery's owners reportedly threatened the owners and members of their family, Hall said she was told.

Owners of the 550 Brewing Taproom did not respond to inquiries by The Daily Times about the nature or volume of those complaints. A spokesman for the Aztec Police Department said he was not aware of any report being filed about the incident by the brewery's owners.

Hall said she understood why the brewery's owners felt it was necessary to cancel the event and added she bore them no ill will.

"My immediate response was, 'I'm so sorry people are being hateful to you. We're used to it, but I didn't think it would boil over to you and your family,'" Hall said she told the brewery's owners.

Hall said she agreed with the owners that the benefits of going ahead with the event did not outweigh the apparent risks, so she went along with the decision to cancel.

But several days later, she was still upset about the incident.

"I'm discouraged," she said. "I'm disappointed and, quite frankly, embarrassed. It's like they win when the event gets shut down. That goes against everything in my being. That gives them the impression that what they're doing is OK."

Based on what she was told by the brewery's owners, Hall said she had the impression that some of the people who issued the threats linked the event to pedophilia. Hall took strong exception to that.

"It's not what people think it is," she said of the nature of the planned drag show. "There's a spectrum. Their impression is, it's some sort of burlesque event. But the (performers) tailor it to their audience."

Hall said many drag shows are considered family events in the queer community, with parents often bringing their children to celebrate their culture. She said the events are especially important to LGBTQ teens who often don't have any other outlet for the emotions and feelings of alienation they may be experiencing in mainstream society.

"Everyone can come, and everyone can have a good time," Hall said. "We have a teen group (organized by Identity Inc.) of 13- to 18-year-olds, and we have parents with children younger than that who are wondering if we have any resources for them."

A discussion about the issue on the Identity Inc. Facebook page included comments from people who said they thought there was no reason for children to be exposed to such events. Hall said there is a simple remedy available to those who believe that.

"If you don't want your children around these events, you don't have to come," she said. "These events aren't for you. You're welcome not to come."

The notion that some people may think that threatening violence is an acceptable way to derail such events is disturbing to Hall, she said.

"We should all be able to be free without fear of being threatened, especially by violence," she said. "We all have different beliefs. What's frustrating is that if other people are doing something I don't agree with, I and other people don't come together to try to stop their event."

Hall said as disappointed as she was by the threats, her spirits were buoyed by the response of the Farmington Police Department. She said she received a call from Deputy Chief Kyle Dowdy, the agency's LGBTQ liaison, inquiring about what had happened and offering his department's assistance.

"He offered to get with the Aztec Police Department and offer them help," Hall said. "There were jurisdictional issues, but he said they were willing to do whatever they could do. They were very concerned for (the brewery's owners) and urged (them) to make a report."

Another upside to the incident was that donations for students and teachers poured in despite the cancellation of the event. Hall said brewery patrons brought in enough school supplies to fill the back seat of her car, and an online fundraising drive had netted $460 by Aug. 14.

"That was more than we expected to make at the event," she said. "In part, I think the queer community and our allies reacted to how were being treated and how 550 was being treated. That's really amazing."

That positive response provided a silver lining to an otherwise ugly chapter, she said.

"We've gotten more support than we did hate," Hall said. "Because of how discouraged and disappointed we were, the community response helped bring back our spirits."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.