2022 True West Awards Day 3 Parasol Patrol
John Moore Column sig

The Denver-based Parasol Patrol was formed for one reason: To protect children's eyes and ears from hate speech, wherever that hate might gurgle to surface.

Nothing brought out the hate and irrational fear this year like Drag Queen Story Time events, which ironically celebrate kindness, literacy and diversity. But whenever protesters threatened to disrupt scheduled events at local bookstores and libraries, the Parasol Patrol was there to shield the assembled children from any possible noise.

It’s a sad commentary on where we are at in 2022 that there is a need for the Parasol Patrol at all, but that need was painfully reinforced by the Club Q massacre. For the first few days following, the Parasol Patrol created a barrier between mourners and anti-gay protesters. The hate is real.

I went to see the Parasol Patrol for myself last summer at The Bookies Book Store in Glendale, and it was a scene that evoked Matthew Shepard's funeral angels – in fabulous Technicolor. As I approached the front door, not a coward in sight. Instead, I was greeted by a dozen Parsolers carrying colorful spinning umbrellas that, if needed, could be used to create a stylish protective barrier between protesters and families arriving to hear wholesome children’s stories read by a legendary drag queen named Miss Shirley – also known as longtime Denver actor Stuart Sanks.

Here’s how it usually goes down: An event gets announced. Agitators, most living out of state, apply pressure to the host venue, threatening trouble if the event is allowed to happen. And the problem with bullies is that bullying sometimes works. Several of Miss Shirley’s events were canceled this year out of an abundance of caution. The irony is, the protesters almost never actually show up. 

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“That’s because their main purpose is not really to disrupt the event,” Sanks said. “What they want is for organizers to cancel the events in advance so that they don’t happen at all.”

Opponents insist the real purpose of “Drag Queen Story Time” is to sexualize children and encourage homosexuality. “Grooming,” they call it. But all they are accomplishing, Sanks said, “is diverting resources from protecting kids in the places where they are actually being harmed” – which is pretty much anywhere other than a “Drag Queen Story Time” event.

The Parasol Patrol was founded by Eli Bazan and Pasha Ripley. Whenever Miss Shirley arrives at a “Story Time” event and sees the Patrol assembled, “I am over the rainbow to be greeted by a sea of rainbow and glitter,” she said. “My heart is full.”

Whenever the Parasol Patrol is there, she added: “I know the children and their families are going to feel safe, valued and protected."

Note: The True West Awards, now in their 22nd year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. Denver Gazette Senior Arts Journalist John Moore celebrates the Colorado theater community by revisiting 30 of the best stories from the past year without categories or nominations.

John Moore is the Denver Gazette's Senior Arts Journalist. Email him at [email protected]