NEW: Bomb threat, protesters disrupt family-oriented drag event in Crystal City

A “Family Fun Story Time Brunch” featuring a drag performer was disrupted Saturday by protests and a bomb threat.

About an hour before the event was scheduled to start at Freddie’s Beach Bar (555 23rd Street S.) the venue received an email threatening the performance and owner Freddie Lutz’s home, Lutz told ARLnow exclusively on Sunday.

Police were called, attendees were ushered to the rear parking lot, and a bomb-sniffing dog from the Pentagon was brought in to sweep the building. After a significant delay, the all clear was given and the show went on.

The crowd of local families, including babies and a grandmother, packed the venue — despite the delay, the threats and a handful of protesters outside “saying we’re going to hell,” according to Lutz.

“We weren’t super surprised when we got that email before the show,” Lutz said.

Neither was drag queen Tara Hoot, who said it’s happened numerous times before, including a similar incident in December in Takoma Park.

“I’ve lost count,” Hoot said of the threats. “It makes me sad that I’ve lost count. No one should lose count of the bomb threats they are getting.”

The brunch event promised “a SHOW that’s perfect for kids and kids at heart – fun for everyone,” featuring “songs, stories, puppets, bubbles and joy,” according to an announcement placed on ARLnow.

Arlington County police confirmed the incident and an ongoing investigation.

“At approximately 11:15 a.m. on April 6, police were dispatched to the report of a bomb threat emailed to a business,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow. “Responding officers made contact with the occupants, conducted a sweep of the business and no evidence of a crime was located. The investigation is ongoing.”

Lutz lamented the current “toxic” environment that has led to threats against drag performance. The national advocacy group GLAAD found “161 incidents of anti-LGBTQ protests and threats targeting drag events” over an approximately one-year period starting in early 2022.

“It’s crazy world we’re living in,” he said, noting that it used to be common for mainstream celebrities like Milton Berle and others to perform in drag without attracting significant controversy.

“It was just fun entertainment, and it still is,” he said, recounting the room full of smiling faces once the show got underway. “Everyone was laughing and enjoying it. I just don’t get it, this show is so innocent. My own niece and nephew and grand niece and nephew were in there and loving it.”

Videos Lutz shared with ARLnow showed kids and parents twirling rainbow streamers while Hoot sang, danced and used bubble gun toys to fill the room with bubbles.

Hoot said the protesters have followed her to various events, including storytime drag brunches at a since-closed restaurant on Capitol Hill, which also received bomb threats.

“I did gigs at Crazy Aunt Helen’s that were protested by religious zealots and had several bomb threats there,” the performer said. “They’ve started targeting my non-family focused events as well.”

“They spew vile hate and lies without ever having been to one of my shows,” Hoot continued. “It’s literally me reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and then doing a song about butterflies, followed by a book about a unicorn wearing a tutu and doing a song about unicorns, and so on and so on. We have bubbles and coloring pages for the kids and we dance with ribbons and have an amazing time spreading love and joy to others. There’s nothing to be afraid of and certainly no reason for their level of lying and hatred.”

“My God taught us to love one another, not hate,” said Lutz. “The vitriol is mind boggling. How did we get here?”

On the bright side, Lutz said the police were supportive and helped to ensure the show went on. He said he later received calls of support from Arlington Police Chief Andy Penn and National Landing BID President Tracy Sayegh Gabriel.

The police department offered to sweep the venue in advance of any future performances and park a cruiser outside, Lutz said.

“Don’t let them steal the show — carry on,” one officer said, according to Lutz.

Another family-focused drag show is already planned, for next month. Hoot noted that she comes to Arlington for other events, as well.

“I come to Arlington for bingo once a month with Shelita Ramen at Astro Beer Hall in Shirlington and will be back at Freddie’s doing Family Fun Story Time Brunch on Saturday, May 4 at noon!” Hoot wrote in an email. “I’d LOVE to see a show of love and support from Arlingtonians at these events. Please don’t let the haters have the loudest voices. Love wins, darlings!”

“I’m hoping the next story book hour will be packed,” Lutz said. “I hope we have a line around the block. We need to fight back.”