The Victorian premier says the targeting of drag events is the worst of American politics creeping into the state after a Melbourne cafe cancelled a children’s craft and games event hosted by drag queens.
It comes as the founder of the community group where threats of “staking out” the cafe and tracking down performers distanced himself from the comments, labelling them “a major concern”.
Police visited Alice Rebel’s Cafe and Bar in Chelsea in Melbourne’s south-east on Thursday morning after messages emerged on encrypted chat app Telegram.
The Age obtained screenshots of messages between those who objected to the event suggesting they could track down the drag performers at their homes by using their licence plate numbers and paying a contact inside VicRoads for home addresses. The Age is unable to verify the legitimacy of the poster’s claims.
Cafe owner Meg Anderson cancelled the “Colour me Egg-cited” Easter event where parents could have brought their children to a craft and games workshop led by two drag queen performers.
After the event was advertised, she received a deluge of messages and calls she described as bigoted.
On Wednesday, the day the event had originally been scheduled, she contacted police fearing for her staff and patrons’ safety after being alerted to the threatening messages from individuals who mistakenly believed the event was still going ahead.
The messages appeared on Tuesday night in a chat forum for ‘My Place Australia’, which is a growing network of fringe social media groups that have protested against local councils over 5G and 15-minute city conspiracy theories. The groups aim to set up “parallel communities” – shadow local governments and alternative institutions to avoid mainstream society.
My Place founder Darren Bergwerf said he had “major concerns” about the messages and described the incident as “infiltration of our communities”.
“I’ve just blocked that person this morning and blocked and removed two people yesterday when I was made aware of who they were,” he said.
Premier Daniel Andrews offered support to the cafe and the drag performers, saying “equality is not negotiable in this state”.
“I think it’s pretty sad day when the worst of American politics is creeping into our state. And there’s no place for that,” he said.
“Trying to disrupt events that are peaceful, lawful. They’re not compulsory, if you don’t want to go don’t go.
“We see this sort of stuff in Florida and all sorts of other places. We don’t need that here, we just don’t. We are a harmonious, respectful, inclusive place where being different [is] not a bad thing.
“It’s what makes us such a vibrant, interesting, thoughtful place, and it shouldn’t be too much to ask to simply expect that you’d be treated fairly and equally. That’s the way it should be.”
Andrews defended the integrity of VicRoads’ database after the agency committed to investigate the matter via the Department of Transport and Planning integrity unit.
“I’d be very concerned to think that anybody could pay for the personal information of anyone, anyone else, that’s simply wrong,” Andrews said.
“My advice is that there are very robust systems and regular audits … that would find any such breach within the VicRoads system.
“It is appropriate that VicRoads have a closer look at this and make sure that the highest standards are being observed.”
The premier lambasted the opposition, accusing the Victorian Liberals of contributing to a climate of “nastiness” around LGBTQI issues, pointing directly to Liberal MP Moira Deeming’s appearance at an anti-trans rally at Parliament last month which was gatecrashed by neo-Nazis.
Opposition Leader John Pesutto said he wasn’t going to dignify the premier’s remarks with a response.
However, he did say it was disturbing that the cafe owner felt unsafe enough to cancel the event.
“This cafe should have been able to conduct its activities,” Pesutto said. “I hope that in due course it’s able to proceed. We live in a democracy and people should be free … to engage in the activities they wish to.”
Phillip Pease, the Liberal candidate for Mordialloc (which takes in the suburb of Chelsea) at the November state election, also publicly backed Alice Rebel cafe on Thursday and urged its owner to hold a similar event in the future.
“I just wanted to jump on and offer my support for Megan and her drag queens at Alice’s bar,” Pease said, calling into the talkback line on ABC Radio’s Melbourne Mornings program.
“I just wanted to say thank you for all the work they do and for actually standing up for minorities.
“I would just implore her to go and reconsider running that event again because I’m sure the community would back them 100 per cent”.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman said they were aware of the cancelled event at the cafe and that the decision was made by the owner. “Police regularly run proactive patrols to deter any anti-social behaviour,” she said.
With Sumeyya Ilanbey and Broede Carmody
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