Protests, counterprotests persist over drag shows at UpRising Bakery

Two months after Lake in the Hills' UpRising Bakery and Cafe first became the subject of protests and even vandalism, the harassment, protests and counterprotests have continued and the owner said she fears for both her business and herself.

A number of protesters, both against and in support of the bakery, again gathered outside the shop on Saturday to voice their opinions on upcoming drag shows the bakery has planned this month.

James Gustafson, who said he resides in Arizona but had lived in Lake in the Hills for 30 years, said he made his way to UpRising Bakery both Friday and Saturday because he doesn't agree kids should be invited to such events.

The family-friendly drag shows at UpRising Bakery first came under fire in July ahead of a planned show later that month.

The cafe was subject to a spree of fake negative reviews, angry phone calls and social media messages. Vandalism at the site has included excrement being left at the doorstep and a sign aimed at employees with a threatening message. A man also entered the store and spit on the bakery display case.

Then, the night before the show, the bakery's windows were smashed and homophobic slurs were spray-painted on its exterior.

Joseph Collins, 24, of Alsip has pleaded not guilty to hate crime and other charges associated with the vandalism

The show eventually did go on at a rescheduled date in August, and the bakery also planned a drag trivia night for Saturday and a drag dinner and show for Sept. 24, according to its Facebook page.

Children are allowed admission to the Sept. 24 show for $20, according to Eventbrite.

Supporters of the bakery also gathered Saturday and in the afternoon outnumbered its detractors. Each side jeered at the other throughout the day, with those in passing cars voicing support for one side or the other.

Candice Neely of Algonquin had rainbows on her vehicle while one of her children waved a pride flag. She described herself as an ally for the LGBTQ community.

Neely said she disagreed with the idea that kids were put in danger by these types of events and said if someone doesn't want their child to attend one, then "don't go." She said she thinks drag is a form of art and it's her choice whether she wants to expose her kids to it.

"We go to an open and affirming church and are very faith-based," she said. "I think it's important for faith-based people to get out on the other side. Love is love, and we don't judge. We support everyone."

The protests and harassment haven't gone away since the July uproar, bakery owner Corinna Bendel-Sac said Friday.

Bendel-Sac said her customers have been harassed and accusations have been made that children are being abused inside the bakery. Employees have quit because of the harassment.

"I fear for my business and for myself," Bendel-Sac said. "They are actively going up to people and telling them to stop supporting my business."

Ashley Rufino of Algonquin said that as a small-business owner herself, her "heart goes out" to the bakery.

"If you don't like it, you don't have to go," she said.

For Eric Stare, an Elgin Township board member who protested with Gustafson, it was about protecting children, he said.

Gustafson said he doesn't personally agree with drag shows but said adults are entitled to do what they want.

"This strip is not a porn center," Gustafson said. "I'm a little disturbed that the village is going to allow them."

When asked about parents' rights to take their children to a drag event, Gustafson said a line has to be drawn. He equated it to child abuse.

"Why do we even have to ask questions like that?" he said. "Doesn't it just automatically register in your mind that that's wrong?"

He said he and others are encouraging people to attend the Lake in the Hills village board meeting Tuesday to "make your voices known."

Gustafson said he plans to be at the bakery every day for the foreseeable future: "I already rented a tent for the winter with a heater. This is my new home."

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