By Chanel Ward
Founders of Parasol Patrol, Pasha Ripley and Eli Bazen have made it their mission to shield children and young people from protestors with creative and colorful solutions that other states are beginning to follow.
The nonprofit started a trend of community shielding, to protect kids to young adults from hate speech that Ripley says not only terrifies and affects the kids, but takes an emotional toll on the parents and supporters as well.
The Weekly Issue/El Semanario caught up with the group and its founders on January 26th at the very place it all started last March; the All Ages Drag Show at Mile High Comics in Denver, Colorado.
“They say some really awful things to these kids, they yell at the kids,” Ripley explained to the group of 50 old and new volunteers after the sign in process was complete, this step enforced after protestors started getting in close to the children by pretending to be with the patrol, going as far as bringing in their own umbrellas and other tactics to blend in.
“They will yell at you, they will call you horrible, horrible things; they call you pedophiles, pedophile protectors and they will yell things that are honestly borderline pornographic to the children, accusing us of over sexualizing them,” she added, with examples of some of the things they may say, measures on how to handle those interactions and even outreach for coping afterwards.
“We’ll just cheer the kids, show them how much we love and appreciate them as they are for who they are, not in spite of who they are.”
Pasha Ripley, Parasol Parol
With a growing need of protection for the communities most vulnerable groups, the Parasol Patrol is busier than ever supporting and fulfilling that void, showing up where they are not only needed, but also where they are welcomed by either the establishment itself or by the parents/family.
“We don’t know if any protestors will show up today, which is the ideal outcome,” Ripley pointed out that another event taking place at the Oriental Theater in northwest Denver, at the same time, may have deterred the usual 30-70 protestors and other than four people grouped together across the street snapping photos, their presence wasn’t missed.
“If the protestors don’t show up that’s great, we’re here because of them, not for them.” She said adding, “we’ll just cheer the kids, show them how much we love and appreciate them as they are for who they are, not in spite of who they are.”
Parasol Patrol doesn’t allow signage or masks, unless medically necessary or for cosplay purposes being that they are not a counter protest group and don’t want to make the situation anymore scary than it has already become. Ripley explains, “we’re not here to project that energy back to any of the protestors, because what we try to do is reduce the chaos as much as possible for the kids.”
With the use of dozens of bright rainbow umbrellas that shield the kids from the signs of the protestors, starting from the gate of the parking lot and stretching all along the front of the building, while a group of musicians are heard playing an upbeat tune that drowns out the noise of the protestors; even using ear protection that they put on each kid as they arrive and until they are safely inside the building.
A rainbow bridge has been built near the parking lot, with rainbow stairs on the front of the building to match. There’s also a long set of rainbow stairs leading to Chuck Rozanski’s office as soon as you enter the massive 45,000 sq. ft. warehouse, complete with a performance stage, impressive statues of various characters by different artists and of course the 80 million comics from wall to wall creating an environment that is nearly impossible to be anything but cheerful, something the owner takes great pride in.
“When you try to open doors and lower barriers for a class of people that have been oppressed you are going to get backlash from those that want to see the status quo maintained and are willing to engage in the most horrific of negativity in order to try and enforce their world view,” Bettie Pages very poignantly explained from behind her desk.
Bettie Pages is Rozanski’s drag persona who despite battling an ongoing illness never misses a show, although was close to it this month, pulling through just in time to support the kids.
This, Pages says, “is the most important three hours of her entire month,” with everything else paling in comparison to the work that they do for the youth of our community.
“I have a far more proactive stance, but I have the capacity and the ability to do that because I own a building, so I don’t have to answer to any landlord, I own this building and I can put on these shows,” explained Pages.
“I have seating for 450 people and we have filled this place to capacity on several of our shows and I built a full performance stage, it’s one of the best stages in the entire city and our sound system now – we invested $10,000 into our sound – is the equal to any club in town, Tracks [nightclub] included,” added Pages.
“We now can put on shows here where youth, young people, transgender kids, kids that want to explore being gender fluid can come and they can perform once a month in an environment that is totally safe and where they are among their peers and that truly is the magic of what we do,” said Pages. “It’s not the performances and it’s not the actual event, it’s the interactions between the youth themselves and their friends that are in the crowd and that’s what creates this extraordinary energy that truly makes this a wonderful thing for us to do.”
To learn more about the events at Mile High Comics, follow their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Mile-High-Comics-23781510808, or to learn more about Parasol Patrol, get involved or donate you can visit their website at https://parasolpatrol.org and like their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/parasolpatrol.org/
to stay current on their happenings and upcoming events.
The next scheduled Parasol Patrol volunteer opportunity for the Mile High Comic All Ages Drag Show, is March 24, 3:30-6pm at Mile High Comics, 4600 Jason St., Denver, CO. To volunteer: https://www.facebook.com/events/210300393665968.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
For More Colorado News:WWW.ELSEMANARIOCOLORADO.COM