LGBTQ advocates blast upcoming conservative gathering at city-owned Des Plaines Theatre
An upcoming event at the city-owned Des Plaines Theatre promoted by a suburban group that has made queerphobic social media posts and other controversial statements drew complaints from LGBTQ advocates during Tuesday's city council meeting.
With some holding rainbow flags, people criticized the groups behind the Feb. 8 event -- especially DuPage County-based Awake Illinois -- and some of the scheduled speakers.
Several city officials, including Mayor Andrew Goczkowski, said they shared audience members' concerns about the event but said they can't demand that theater operator Ron Onesti and his Onesti Entertainment cancel the gathering.
Called "Out of the Echo Chamber: Coalition for Kids," the event is open to anyone for a $5 donation.
Awake Illinois' website describes the event as "a diverse group of advocates (gathering) together to transform the conversation on issues affecting children."
Speakers are set to include Jaimee Michell, founder of a group called Gays Against Groomers; Stephanie Trussell, recent Republican candidate for lieutenant governor; Shannon Adcock, founder of Awake Illinois and a leader of Moms for Liberty DuPage; and former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Dubiel.
Sponsors include groups and companies Turning Point USA, the Chicago Log Cabin Republicans, Public Square and No Left Turn in Education.
At the start of Tuesday's council meeting, more than a dozen audience members took to the public lectern to criticize the event.
Many targeted Awake Illinois, which -- under the banner of parental rights -- has railed against mask mandates, suburban drag events and new sex education standards.
Last June, the group called Gov. J.B. Pritzker "a groomer" for signing a law calling for comprehensive sexual health education standards for sixth- through 12th-graders as well as personal health and safety education standards for younger students.
Several audience members mentioned how Des Plaines promotes itself on its website as a city that "embraces and honors diversity in all forms including: race, ethnicity, gender, transgender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, ability and disability."
Goczkowski and other officials said they learned of Awake Illinois' event Tuesday morning. He said if he were Onesti, "I would not be booking (these) speakers."
Onesti could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Second Ward Alderman Colt Moylan said the Des Plaines Theatre was renovated and reopened at public expense for entertainment, not political rallies, while Alderman Malcolm Chester of the 6th Ward firmly opposed discrimination but said free speech rights must be considered.
Conversely, 5th Ward Alderman Carla Brookman defended the event and the scheduled speakers and accused the critics in the room of having "a lack of tolerance" for opposing viewpoints.
Several audience members shouted at Brookman after she incorrectly recited the LGBTQ acronym and added "or whatever," as well as after other comments she made. The outbursts prompted Goczkowski to repeatedly hush the crowd.
City officials said they will discuss the issue further.
"This is definitely something that we have to address," Goczkowski said.
When asked for comment Tuesday night, Awake Illinois shared a tweet that read: "Our diverse coalition for kids is under attack from child mutilation advocates."
Adcock tweeted: "It's called a right to assembly, fascists! Sick, sick people."