A conservative, Republican-voting, straight, married business owner in Oklahoma has been attacked and harassed on social media for hosting a drag event at her restaurant.
Sharon Hurst, an Air Force veteran who owns the restaurant Crossing 2nd in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, told the news site Oklahoma Watch that she’s been targeted by a Tennessee-based ministry called Warriors for Christ.
The group, which has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, regularly travels the country and protests Drag Queen Story Time and Pride events.
One of those events was Bartlesville Pride, held in a public park last September, during which members of Warriors for Christ allegedly shouted vulgarities at Pride performers, including drag queens, while holding up a sign reading, “Got AIDS yet?”
The incident — and the outcry from local residents angered by the presence of drag queens in public, where they could be seen by children — ultimately led the city council to ban “adult entertainment” in public parks.
Hurst says Pastor Rich Penkoski, the leader of Warriors for Christ, has turned his attention from Bartlesville Pride and has instead been harassing her and her customers on social media over a drag event held at the restaurant.
In November, Penkoski posted a video of a drag queen performing, claiming that children were in attendance at the event, and calling Hurst a liar for denying the charge in a Facebook reply.
“The owner is trying to say there were no children present but the video didn’t lie. You can see what is obviously a teenager and you can hear small children giggling,” Penkoski wrote in the description of the video on YouTube. “Please contact them and let them know how disgusting and inappropriate this was. How NOT family friendly this is and make sure your church (if your (sic) in or around Bartlesville) knows what they did and do NOT give them your business until they publicly repent for this abomination.”
Last week, the anti-LGBTQ Twitter account Libs of TikTok posted a one-minute video that appeared to use much of the same footage from Penkosi’s video of the drag queen, who is shown squatting down, doing splits, and rolling around on the floor during the performance.
In its tweet, Libs of TikTok described the drag queen’s dancing, and claimed that the show was billed as “family-friendly” and that children were present at the show.
But Hurst denies that assertion, saying that the performance was held in the back of the restaurant and was billed as being for adults.
“What they’re trying to do is link us to children,” she says.
Ryan Walters, the Oklahoma State Superintendent of Schools, retweeted Libs of TikTok’s post, writing, “These are not Oklahoma values.” That was disappointing to Hurst, a self-described conservative who voted for Republicans — including Walters — last election.
Hurst says that she opened Crossing 2nd in February 2020, two weeks before restaurants and bars shuttered at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Later that year, the restaurant hosted its first drag show, which brought in more than 100 customers. As a result, Crossing 2nd began hosting drag shows twice a month.
“They’re not weird,” Hurst says of her customers, noting that she tries to make her restaurant inclusive for all types of customers. “They’re normal people. It’s entertainment.”
But Hurst has also read the writing on the wall, telling Oklahoma Watch that the last drag show took place in December and that she won’t be hosting any more because of the hate and divisiveness directed at her and her customers.
She also fears possible violence, pointing to a doughnut shop in Tulsa that was vandalized twice after hosting an art exhibit featuring drag queens. The second time, the perpetrator threw a molotov cocktail through a broken window, damaging the inside of the shop and leaving behind an envelope containing a letter filled with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
“It’s gotten so out of hand,” she says of the overreaction towards drag performers and anyone adjacent to them, which is not limited to Bartlesville or Oklahoma, but appears to have gained traction in other states as part of a larger nationwide political movement opposing displays of gender-nonconformity.
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