Billboard Chris’s Protest of Doylestown’s Rainbow Room Drowned Out by Community Support for LGBTQ Youth

“Community is the answer to all this,” said Kim Barbaro. “Anytime we all go through something like this together, it strengthens our community, and I think that's an important piece of this.”
Photo by Barbara Simmons.

Canadian anti-LGBTQ activist Chris Elston, commonly known as Billboard Chris, showed up in Doylestown on Wednesday to protest the Rainbow Room, a center for LGBTQ youth. Elston announced his plans to disrupt the Rainbow Room’s weekly meeting at Salem Church on Twitter just days before, calling the center “groomer central” and referring to the meeting as a “youth indoctrination event.” 

The Rainbow Room, which also came under attack earlier this year, has been serving LGBTQ+ youth in Bucks County for over 20 years and offers a number of programs to help provide support and medically accurate, age-appropriate and LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education for youth throughout Bucks County. The center’s meeting at Salem Church on Wednesdays is open to all LGBTQ+ and allied youth aged 14 to 21.

READ: Protecting Trans Youth

Elston has made a name for himself spreading anti-LGBTQ rhetoric while wearing inflammatory sandwich boards and was reportedly invited to protest the event by local “parents’ rights” and Moms for Liberty activist Megan Brock, who has previously targeted the Rainbow Room for its inclusive sex education and widely popular queer prom. The two worked together just last month at the Moms for Liberty summit in Philadelphia, where he denied the existence of trans kids and falsely claimed that gender-affirming care is “child abuse.”

If Elston was hoping to provoke an argument Wednesday night, however, as he so often does, all he got was silence.  

He and around a dozen others, including Brock and other local Moms for Liberty members, walked around with sandwich boards and signs deriding puberty blockers and “gender ideology.” The group was met with nearly 200 people gathered on the law in front of the church, who mostly ignored them and acted as a buffer between the protestors and the kids inside.

In anticipation of Elston’s visit, 18 volunteer peacekeepers were organized by Salem Church to help safeguard the event and the majority of the supporters who showed up are members of Salem, which organized a cook out with hot dogs, music, bubbles and to create an atmosphere of celebration and welcoming. In a show of support and solidarity, parents, parishioners, and many other members of the community came by the church to help ensure that the weekly youth meeting went unbothered. 

READ: Central Bucks School District Embarrassed Itself With Show Trial Of ACLU LGBTQ Discrimination Complaint

Barbara Simmons, a peacekeeper at the event, told the Bucks County Beacon that Elston “would come over to us, put the camera in our faces and say, ‘Can you tell me what a trans kid is? What’s the meaning of trans?’ And we would all turn our backs or not look at him or talk to him.” Simmons says Elston became frustrated by the lack of response and continued to try to start a debate. 

“It seemed like all he wanted to do was push buttons versus have a conversation,” she said. “So we were all advised to not engage.”

Kim Barbaro, who also attended the event, said Elston even asked the Rainbow Room supporters why they wanted to “poison” children. 

“It’s pretty obvious he thrives off of the response,” Barbaro, the deputy program director of Red Wine and Blue, told the Bucks County Beacon. “It’s like when you’re dealing with bullies,” she said, explaining that giving them what they want doesn’t do any good.

According to Melissa Reed, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Keystone, which founded the Rainbow Room, the youth center is no stranger to being targeted by people “who want to lash out” at LGBTQ kids and teens, and trans people in particular. 

READ: Stand In Solidarity With Trans Americans

“It’s very harmful for people like Billboard Chris and their supporters to come and bully our young people,” Reed told the Bucks County Beacon, noting that LGBTQ youth are already at an increased risk of depression and suicide. “Our main focus is making sure that our young people can get the information they need in a safe environment without threats or harassment or intimidation.”

Despite Elston’s multiple attempts to provoke a verbal fight, he ultimately didn’t get what he was looking for. The only interaction Simmons witnessed was when a few protestors started talking to an elderly minister from Trumbauersville, asking him “how he can go against the Bible” and support LGBTQ people. “He really held his own in responding to them,” she said, adding that after some back and forth, some of the men who came to support the Rainbow Room surrounded him in a gesture of solidarity. “It was just remarkable to watch, and I thought, this is what some real support and peacekeeping and good citizenship looks like.” 

Another moment that stood out to Simmons was when Elston took a photo with two police officers while wearing his “Children Can’t Consent to Puberty Blockers” sandwich board, which she says felt inappropriate and political. Elston later posted the photo to Twitter, captioning it “I love American police.”

For the most part, however, the event was calm and filled with an outpouring of support for the Rainbow Room and LGBTQ youth. “There were chalk drawings on the way up and words of support and love and lots of beautiful rainbow flags. The event itself was so uneventful for him that he had to go outside of the event to get fodder,” Barbaro said, referring to an incident Elston later had with someone at a restaurant, which the activist documented on Twitter. 

READ: Pride In Peril: Reflections On The Anti-LGBTQ+ Panic

Over 25 kids came to the Rainbow Room on Wednesday “ignoring all the hatred that was trying to be sent their way because they felt the support of the community,” Simmons said. 

“Community is the answer to all this,” Barbaro added. “Anytime we all go through something like this together, it strengthens our community, and I think that’s an important piece of this.”

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Catherine Caruso

Catherine Caruso

Catherine Caruso is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer with a focus on culture, politics, education, and LGBTQ rights.

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