Proud Boys protest drag show for all ages at Tea Zaanti

Inside Tea Zaanti — a wine and tea store in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City — about 40 people sang and danced in a crowded room on Friday night, led by drag queens who performed a show for all ages.

Outside the store, 1944 S. 1100 East, five people dressed in black, yellow, and camouflage stood on the public sidewalk in the freezing cold. They yelled at the people who went to Tea Zaanti, calling them “groomers” and telling them to be ashamed.

At least one carried a semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm pistol.

Tea Zaanti co-owner Scott Lyttle called the police, he said, out of concern for the performers and for his staff and guests.

Several Salt Lake City police officers responded. According to Lyttle, police asked the protesters for their firearms, instructed them to stay on the sidewalk and told them not to use the megaphone they had brought with them.

The evening stayed peaceful, said Lyttle, and it was intense. In front of the tea shop, no one had ever protested outside, he said.

The protester, who carried the firearms, identified himself to The Salt Lake Tribune as the founder of the Salt Lake chapter of the Proud Boys, which he says he founded in 2016. The man, who wore a face mask, did not give his name but said he lives in Salt Lake County. He also asked to be identified as Hispanic to show that not all Proud Boys are white.

He said it was the first time his group had protested at Tea Zaanti, but they had attended other events in Utah.

“I think a lot of things affect kids, whether it’s a drag show or a scary movie, kids are suggestible,” he said. “When we start blurring the lines between good and bad, male and female, that becomes a problem because then laws are passed… it just gets really messy.”

The protester said the Proud Boys would not have turned up if there had been no children at the show.

“We are not here to hinder people’s way of life,” he said.

He then added, “You would never take a kid to a strip club. Why should that be different? Sexualized women dancing in front of boys – this is a man dressed as a woman sexually dancing in front of children.”

Through the store’s window, he said protesters could see drag queens showing children how to walk like them. The protesters stood in the cold throughout the three-hour show.

Tea Zaanti has been hosting drag shows for more than a year, Lyttle said.

“We’re not doing anything illegal here,” he said. “It’s good, wholesome fun. People have a right to be upset about it, but that’s beyond me.”

This isn’t the first time Tea Zaanti has dealt with harassment for this drag show called Bes-Teas. In September, the company’s ratings on sites like Yelp and Google plummeted after social media group Libs of TikTok boosted a video on Tea Zaanti’s Instagram account.

The Proud Boys member said they would protest future drag shows at Tea Zaanti “whenever children are involved”.

Inside Tea Zaanti, a group of seven friends – five of them mothers – attending the show overheard protesters calling them “groomers”. The friends, who only used their first names, said they came to support the queer community.

The protesters looked intimidating, said someone named Kelly.

“They were threatening,” she said, adding, “I’m not used to being around people who try to stop me from doing things that aren’t harmful.”

Another mum, Tessa, said a non-binary trans family member recently died – and that her 8-year-old child misses her. Watching the drag queens, she said, “Their souls are exactly what I want my kids to see.”

Katelyn, who was also in attendance, dismissed the “groomer” label, pointing it back at the protesters. “Hate like that,” Katelyn said, gesturing over her shoulder out the window, “is bred by role models rather than something innate like sexuality or sexual orientation.”

As the show ended, Lyttle safely escorted a family of three children back to their car and ignored shouts from the remaining protesters – including four passing teenagers – and decided to join in the jeers after the Proud Boys explained why they were there. Lyttle went back into the store and turned off the “Open” sign.

Tara Lipsyncki, the Utah drag queen who is producing the event, said they had made plans to deal with protesters before, but Friday’s demonstration was still nerve-wracking for the adults in the room.

The kids inside didn’t look nervous, Lipsyncki said, adding that one mother explained that the group outside chose hate while those inside chose love.

“The Bes Teas show here at Tea Zaanti always comes from a place of love, innocence and queer joy,” said Lipsyncki, a longtime advocate for giving queer youth the space to be unconditionally accepted and loved. “There’s nothing inappropriate, it just allows kids and adults to come out as a family and enjoy an art form that’s been around forever.”

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism. Proud Boys protest drag show for all ages at Tea Zaanti

Justin Scaccy

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