A small virtual firestorm and a call from an out-of-district state Senate candidate led a Newburyport venue to pull out of hosting a May 13 dance for local LGBTQ+ youth. Now, the organizers have a bounty of spaces to choose from after media drew attention to the stranded event.

The “Over the Rainbow” dance was scheduled to be held at Saint John’s Lodge/Masonic Hall, with organizers from Newburyport’s Department of Youth Services in affiliation with the North Shore Alliance for GLBTQ+ Youth. But on Friday, the city’s chief of staff informed the City Council that the venue had decided to no longer host the event. Andrea Egmont, Newburyport’s director of youth services, said the lodge pulled out after being contacted by Kari MacRae, a state Senate candidate seeking to represent Plymouth and Barnstable. The uppermost point of the district she’s looking to represent is some 65 miles south of Newburyport.

An outpouring of support for LGBTQ+ youth has followed the news. Organizers say three churches and two other venues stepped forward to offer up their spaces. The event will be free to attend because of an influx of donated funds that rolled in after Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon clarified that the dance was not being supported by residents' tax dollars. And a local group is putting together a Welcoming Wall, where people can post messages of support for youth as they walk into the dance.

But among the support from the local community, there was also frustration with the misinformation and apparent bigotry motivating the opposition to the event, particularly when significant criticism came from outside their city.

“Last week was very upsetting in that the attack was just clearly homophobic, and frustrating that people kept saying that they support the LGBT community but that this event wasn’t appropriate,” Egmont told GBH News Monday. “On the flip side, the outpouring of love and support has been really amazing. It’s what we knew this community to be.”

“There’s always going to be bigots in the world, people who don’t accept everyone. And that’s their own problem,” said Sully McLellan, a junior at Triton Regional High School who’s involved in planning the event. “We’re just trying to be ourselves.”

"There's always going to be bigots in the world, people who don't accept everyone. And that's their own problem. We're just trying to be ourselves."
Sully McLellan, a junior at Triton Regional High School

Headlines and videos began circulating among conservative sites and groups about Miz Diamond Wigfall, the drag performer hired to DJ the dance, late last week. Posts shared in a parents’ Facebook group and the Massachusetts-focused conservative site Turtleboy Daily News criticized Diamond and one of her past performances, which contained adult material, saying it was inappropriate for the performer to DJ for minors.

State Senate candidate MacRae posted about the “Over the Rainbow” event on her personal Facebook page Friday, writing, “It’s not about the dance, it’s about the entertainer!! #protectourchildren.” In the comments, she wrote, “We did not want the event cancelled. Only the inappropriate DJ!!”

The planned dance brought out comments from top officials in the state. Massachusetts GOP chair Jim Lyons posted about the event on Friday, writing, “The radical left on display in Newburyport…. More evidence of their absolute insanity!” Rep. Seth Moulton, who represents Newburyport in the U.S. House of Representatives, posted Saturday, “The views of one hateful Massachusetts Republican Party candidate should not deny a group of #Newburyport LGBTQ teens the opportunity to enjoy themselves.”

But Diamond rejected the idea that having once performed any adult content disqualified her from DJing a dance for high schoolers.

“When you boil an actor down to a part they’ve played, or a singer to one song that they’ve done, you take away from the fact that they can create art that’s successful for all kinds of ages and communities,” Diamond wrote in a statement to GBH News. “As a member [of] the LGBTQIA + community I have obviously experienced homophobia, but I have never experienced this level of right wing shenanigans. Our goal here is to create safe spaces for queer youth so that they can know that they are loved celebrated and a part of this world.”

Egmont said organizers had specifically reached out to Diamond because of her previous work with kids, including “Story Time” at libraries where she read picture books and sang songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

“If we hired a comedian to do a teen comedy show and they had other material out there that wasn’t for teens, would that be as big an issue?” Egmont said. “Or do we trust that entertainers know how to change their show for the population?”

MacRae, a former Hanover teacher and member of the Bourne School Committee, drew media attention last year over her social media posts regarding race and gender. In one widely publicized video, she said part of the reason she ran for the school board was to make sure that students were “not being taught that they can choose whether or not they want to be a girl or a boy.”

Her work with public schools also came under scrutiny. She was fired from her Hanover teaching position in September over her social media posts and is now suing the superintendent and principal with the backing of conservative legal advocacy group Judicial Watch, arguing they violated her First Amendment rights. A campaign to recall her from the school committee failed when MacRae refused to step down in September.

MacRae did not return a call or email requesting comment. The dance's original venue at Saint John’s Lodge also did not comment.

North Shore Alliance for GLBTQ+ Youth Executive Director James Giessler said the North Shore community has been supportive for the 30 years of the organization’s existence. He’s not aware of any other incidents in which the organization’s events have received any sort of organized pushback.

“This is probably the worst that we’ve seen, and we were all kind of taken aback by it because we’re just not used to it up here on the North Shore, we don’t get those kinds of responses,” Giessler said. “And especially since this is coming from somebody from down on Cape Cod, we can’t figure out why the individual from Cape Cod is concerned about what we’re doing up here.

“I can’t stress enough how disappointed we are that this has gotten to this level when we know it’s such a small number of people that are opposing these kids,” he went on. “And it always gets blown up into something huge as if it’s this major attack. … I really want to stress how wonderful our communities have been in fighting back. I mean, the number of phone calls I’ve gotten today of people saying, ‘How can I help? Can I pay for a different venue for them?’”

After deciding to move the event to a local Unitarian church, with room for 75 attendees, Egmont said organizers realized that it might have to be held in a larger space to accommodate what they expect to be a much larger crowd.

“I am still looking forward to it,” said McLellan, the student organizer. “And I think, although we’re getting negative publicity, it’s going to be bringing in more youth to come because we’re getting a lot more support, too.”