Swastika spray-painted on senior center ahead of Pride celebration in North Carolina
Anthony Crider

APEX, N.C. — Vandals spray-painted a swastika on the outside wall of the senior center in this suburban community outside of Raleigh on the eve of a holiday Pride celebration featuring a drag queen story hour, which took place today.

The event went off without incident, drawing about 150 attendees, according to an organizer. Apex police officers patrolled the hallway outside the meeting room where the Pride celebration was held while a mahjong tournament in the adjacent room, with Santas making appearances at both gatherings.

While families celebrated inside the meeting room, Deputy Chief PM McKinney assured Rick Conard, one of the event organizers, that police are committed to catching the perpetrator of the vandalism and that investigators are reviewing surveillance footage, frame by frame.

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Workers showed up to remove the graffiti while the Pride event was underway, but at the direction of senior center manager Allie Prelaske, they re-concealed it with plastic garbage bags and put the removal job on hold to prevent people from photographing the swastika. Prelaske expressed concern about attendees seeing the swastika, noting that the senior center is hosting a Hannukah event tomorrow.

The LGBTQ+ community in North Carolina has been on edge since an attack on two power substations in Moore County disrupted a drag performance in Southern Pines two weeks ago. Authorities have not confirmed that the attack was motivated by opposition to the drag show. Regardless, the two events became inextricably linked when Emily Gracey Rainey, a far-right activist and former Army captain who vocally opposed the drag show, posted on Facebook, “I know why the power is out in Moore County.” Rainey, who was protesting the drag show when the power went out, went on to claim that the outage was God’s punishment on Moore County for allowing the event.

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Deanna Conard, cofounder of Apex Pride and lead organizer of the 1st Annual Apex Pride Holiday Celebration, said it was important to not bow to pressure from far-right groups like the Proud Boys that are trying to force venues and organizers to restrict families from bringing children to drag events.

“One of the things groups are pushing for is to make event 18 and over,” Conard told Raw Story. “Our counterparts in Moore County did not want to do that, but the venue was under pressure and they buckled. Then they can say we knew all along that this was inappropriate for children. It’s a trap. Then, it makes it adult entertainment, and down the block there’s a church, and then they can shut it down because they say it violates a zoning ordinance.”

Conard said showcasing drag performances is part of building a supportive community for LGBTQ+ children.

“We have four children ourselves,” Conard said. “Getting to meet drag artists, it’s a good representation. It’s a good example that you can be anybody you want. They are not unlike characters that you see at Disney.”

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The Apex Pride holiday celebration was one of two drag events taking place around midday on Saturday in Wake County. Thirteen miles away, Umami Asian Bistro hosted a monthly drag story hour across the street from NC State University. The last drag story hour in November drew about a dozen members of the Proud Boys, a violent nationalist gang, who protested outside the venue.

Deputy Chief McKinney with the Apex Police Department said he had been on the phone with a captain with the Raleigh Police Department on Saturday to coordinate safety between the two events. As with the event in Apex, the Proud Boys did not make an appearance at the drag story hour in Raleigh.

Deanna Conard said that the escalation of harassment against the LGBTQ+ community in North Carolina has resulted in an outpouring of support from community members wishing to show solidarity. She said the number of volunteers who signed up to help out with the holiday celebration on Saturday was double the number from previous events.

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Similarly, at Umami, dozens of supporters dressed in colorful attire lined the sidewalk on Hillsborough Street and cheered as families went inside the restaurant.

About an hour before the event, about 25 people convened inside the venue for a meeting, which was closed to the press, to go over a safety plan. During the event, a security person equipped with a handheld radio scanned the street from a position on the rooftop deck, while others wearing security vests fanned out in the streets around the venue.

Supporters of a drag show visit outside of Umami Asian Bistro in Raleigh on Saturday.Jordan Green