PORTLAND, Ore. — A planned after-school LGBTQ+ Pride event at Atkinson Elementary School in Southeast Portland has been canceled due to threats, according to a message posted to the school's website.
The festival was scheduled for Friday afternoon, but the decision to cancel it came more than two weeks ago. Willamette Week first reported Thursday about the event and the cancellation.
In a May 2 email sent to parents, Atkinson interim principal Beth Essex said the event was organized by students in the school's Gay-Straight Alliance and was initially intended for GSA students and their families, but was eventually expanded with invitations to the whole school community.
"Unfortunately, what was intended to be a celebration has become a point of controversy," she wrote. "Inaccurate rumors about this event have been shared on social media, leading to sensationalized media inquiries and shameful, hate-infused vitriol aimed at some of the most vulnerable members of our community."
The purpose of the event had become "overshadowed by manufactured controversy and anti-Queer bias," she wrote. In a subsequent message posted to the school's website on May 5, Essex wrote that the cancellation was prompted by safety concerns due to "threats on social media, by phone and to staff member's email accounts."
"It is sad to me that the voices of the few can outweigh the voices of the many - and thus take away an anticipated, optional, after school event from those who it meant so much to," she wrote. She also thanked parents who had emailed in support of the GSA after the cancellation.
Portland Public Schools chief of schools Dr. Don Franco sent another letter on May 18 apologizing for the cancellation, which he blamed on "intimidation and harassment." The letter also appeared to be intended to reassure parents who were concerned that protesters could show up on Friday despite the cancellation.
According to Willamette Week, conservative news sites and personalities began circulating information about the event on social media earlier this month, drawing many comments condemning the plan or calling for protests to shut it down.
Conservative radio host Lars Larson tweeted about the festival on May 1, including a picture of what appears to be a flyer detailing the schedule, and the account Libs of TikTok tweeted the same picture the following day.
Both posts highlighted the inclusion of a drag show listed on the flyer, and both drew a large number of comments objecting to the event, many of which included anti-LGBTQ rhetoric like the "groomer" smear.
Right-wing protests against LGBTQ Pride events have increased in recent years, in some cases leading to cancellations due to threats. What would have been the second annual Keizer Pride Fair was canceled last year due to safety concerns after the organizer said she received personal threats online against her family.
A bar in Eugene hosted a drag queen story hour event last year, drawing protesters and counter-protesters, and the incident made national headlines after members of the two groups began throwing rocks and smoke grenades at each other.
Heathen Brewing in Vancouver was vandalized in March, several weeks ahead of a planned drag benefit brunch event. The pub's executive chef said he had received hateful and threatening messages about the event, although he added that it was unclear whether the vandalism was directly connected.