A Victoria drag show billed as family-friendly has been cancelled after the café venue received threatening phone calls.
Victoria police are investigating the threats, which were called in Wednesday and targeted the café for hosting the event, raising concerns for the safety of staff, participants and guests.
Caffe Fantastico, at the corner of Quadra Street and Kings Road, had planned to host the Sashay Café drag show Saturday night, to be staged by a group called For the Love of Drag.
“This is being taken very seriously,” the program producer wrote in an online statement. “We don’t know what the future of the show will be, but please know that the support shown during this terrible time has been a silver lining.”
Sashay Café is an all-ages show that has been performed in Victoria for about three years.
“We pride ourselves on being a safe space for kids, youth and everyone to try out drag to express themselves, which includes everything from lip syncing to tap dancing to singing live,” said a statement from For the Love of Drag. “We’ve never had a complaint from the community about the content of our shows.” The incident comes as Victoria Pride Festival, an annual celebration organized by the Victoria Pride Society, is set to return to in-person events next week after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic.
A statement from society executive director Deidre Rowland said celebrations will go on “with the support of our communities and allies.”
“VPS stands firm with its zero tolerance of hate, violence and discrimination.”
Rowland said the society is in conversation with the Victoria Police Department and its security provider to ensure precautions are in place for the upcoming events, including the Pride Parade on June 26.
In response to the threats against the drag show, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said: “We need to come together as a community, not tear each other apart.
“Pride month is about celebrating and honouring diversity, celebrating inclusion and making space in our community for love in all its forms,” said Helps, who was in drag Friday to raise the Progress Pride flag outside city hall. “To all 2SLGBTQ+ members of Victoria’s community, and all our allies, know that you are loved, and that love will always prevail over fear, hate and anger.”
Sean Guist, a local drag performer and queer theatre artist, said the incident is a reminder that there is still work to do to tackle discrimination and hatred. “And it can’t all be done by queer people,” Guist said. “We need straight allies to step up and do the work.”
Guist said he typically feels safe in Victoria but still endures discrimination, whether it’s slurs from passing vehicles or a comments from a worker in a fast food restaurant.
“As much as we like to think we are in this lovely little bubble, it’s not always true,” he said.
“There’s a lot of really amazing things [happening] but this is a reminder that there is a lot of work that needs to be done and there’s a lot of education that needs to happen to address these pieces.”
For many people, drag is a way to express their gender experience and be someone else on stage, Guist said.
“To have that taken away and threatened, is such a problematic thing to happen any time of year. But to happen during Pride Month, for an all-ages drag show, is a pretty awful thing.”
A statement from VicPD Staff Sgt. Jennifer Ames, co-chair of the Greater Victoria Police Diversity Advisory Committee, said it was disappointing to learn of “these deeply concerning calls and the impact that they have had on staff, event organizers and those who were looking forward to this event.”
“Hate has no place in Victoria. We want those who were looking forward to this event to know that we’re responding to ensure that they are safe and that we hope for the return of this event.”
Anyone with information about the threats is asked to call VicPD at 250-995-7654 ext. 1. To report anonymously, call Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.