West Chester OutFest canceled after ‘hate-filled’ backlash to LGBTQ event

West Chester canceled an LGBTQ celebration this week after receiving dozens of emails the Borough Council President described as “hateful” and “scathing”.

The October 1st event was set to be Chester County County’s first OutFest, a celebration of National Coming Out Day.

“The aim of this event was to bring people together and allow those in our community who are being marginalized to feel included and supported,” the West Chester Business Improvement District said in a statement. “While there were many logistical challenges that contributed to this decision, including a low number of vendors and volunteers to make it a successful event, it was also due to the poignancy and hate felt towards this event and its people organizers were addressed. We no longer felt like it was a safe place for our community.”

A similar celebration in place of the original event is in the early stages of planning in the district for the same day, but officials and community members say they remain concerned by the vitriol.

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“I think I took it for granted that people just accept the LGBTQ community,” said district council president Michael Stefano. “I was kind of naïve given that there are still a lot of people out there who hate people who are different from them.”

Stefano said officials had started receiving hateful emails from people opposing OutFest, with the email senders having particular problems with the fact that drag queens would be performing.

“I did my best to answer these people as soon as possible,” Stefano said, “and let them know I won’t put up with it.”

O’Brien finally decided to withdraw the application for the event at Tuesday’s council meeting, Stefano said, and the council backed his decision.

Stefani Steel, a drag queen who was set to perform at the celebration, said she was “disappointed” that the event was canceled due to such a hateful response.

“OutFest and Pride events are a big deal for drag performers,” Steel said, noting that the cancellation caused quite a stir among drag performers across the region and in New York. “Having queer events in new areas is super important for all of us.”

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While O’Brien said he was unavailable for further comment Thursday, he referred a reporter to Eddy Foster, who is in the early stages of planning another OutFest event in the county on Oct. 1. Having been part of the West Chester community and the LGBTQ community his whole life, Foster, 35, said he thought it was important for an event to still be held.

That OutFest celebration is set to include a rally on the courthouse steps, followed by a march downtown and a gathering at a local restaurant with drinks and drag performances, Foster said.

“We’ve had drag queens at gay events, at Pride, at OutFest, across the country for over 40 years,” Foster said. “It’s something that goes hand in hand. It’s normal and we won’t pretend it’s not.”

Foster hopes this event won’t receive the same level of hateful response, he said, since the performances take place in a restaurant and don’t have the sponsors or financial backing of the original event. According to advertisements, the original outdoor event was scheduled to take place from 12pm to 4pm.

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Among those questioning the original event was the West Chester Borough Republican Committee. In a Facebook post Monday, the committee asked others who find the drag show “inappropriate” to contact the local council.

The committee did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

It’s unclear how many people reached out to the advice after seeing the post. Stefano said no one who emailed him identified themselves as affiliated with the local Republican committee.

Amid the hate, Stefano said he was heartened to see the support for members of the LGBTQ community.

“As many emails as I got from people who were upset about it,” he said, “I probably got three times as many emails from people who really support the event and are very upset that it’s not happening .”

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