Threats lead Downers Grove library to cancel drag bingo event

A planned drag-themed bingo event for teens at the Downers Grove Public Library has been canceled because of threats now being investigated by local police, officials announced Monday.

"Providing an inclusive, welcoming, and safe space for everyone in the Downers Grove community is of the utmost importance to the library," library Director Julie Milavec said in an open letter to the community. "Unfortunately, in this case, it is not possible to provide a safe place for everyone due to the threats made."

The event was scheduled for Oct. 11 - National Coming Out Day. Bingo games and a short lip-sync performance by drag performer Aurora Divine were planned.

Library officials insisted the program, aimed for seventh- through 12th-graders, would be appropriate for the setting and the audience.

Staffers were contacted by hundreds of opponents and supporters after the program was announced late last month. People were about evenly split, with supporters edging out critics, officials said.

Among the emails, calls and social media posts about the event were at least two threats that were passed along to police.

One was a Facebook post urging people to "bring weapons" to the library, according to police reports. It was written by an Idaho man who subsequently apologized and said he had no plans to attend the event, police said.

Additionally, an unidentified man left a voicemail for a library employee in which he expressed displeasure over the drag event in such a way that it was classified as telephone harassment, reports indicated.

Library officials on Monday declined to comment on the threats or to say if more have come in, citing the active police investigation.

A police department representative couldn't be reached.

In her letter to the public, Milavec insisted "hate did not win today" and said she's "determined" to find ways to support the teens who'd registered for the event.

"It is our responsibility to keep you safe," Milavec wrote. "We are disappointed and saddened by the some of the vitriolic feedback that we received for what was meant to be an evening of fun and celebration of self-identity and self-expression."

Among the people opposing the event were the members of a group called Awake Illinois. In what it called a "call of action," the group provided contact information for library officials so people could share their concerns. It also suggested several specific questions, including, "Why is the library board OK with exploiting children in a public setting that may well encourage attendance of sex offenders/child predators?"

In response to the event's cancellation, Awake Illinois on Monday tweeted: "We are grateful law enforcement is addressing alleged threats. We hope the library considers events for LGBTQ youth that will have integrity and will truly enrich the Downers Grove community."

In a separate tweet, the group claimed to have reserved "at least 40 seats" for the program.

The program had been open to 40 teens, and all spots were taken, officials have said. The program also had a waiting list with at least 40 names, spokeswoman Cindy Khatri said.

Republican congressional candidate and Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau repeatedly denounced the event, too, including on social media and in a radio interview.

In a fundraising email to supporters last week, Pekau criticized the program as "an inappropriate, sexualized event for children." Pekau also complained that tax dollars were being used on the event. A community member had offered to cover Divine's $125 fee.

Pekau, who hasn't responded to Daily Herald interview requests, is seeking the 6th District seat held by Democrat Sean Casten of Downers Grove. Casten on Monday said he was "incredibly disheartened" by the cancellation.

Casten went on to accuse Pekau and Awake Illinois of creating an unsafe environment by publicly condemning the event.

"They should be ashamed of themselves," Casten said.

In response, Awake Illinois blasted Casten for blaming "Moms, Dads, and pro-child advocates for the alleged actions of others."

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