Miss Shirley Delta Blow sat facing the windows of the BookBar on Tennyson Street on Thursday night, reading the children’s book “Just Add Glitter” to a rapt audience filled with dozens of children and parents, when a burst of activity caught the drag queen’s eye.
She watched a man in a black T-shirt and black mask sprint up to the window and spray-paint the storefront in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood. Two people inside, along with police officers stationed nearby, chased the man, eventually catching him in an alley.
One day earlier, BookBar was tagged with stickers from a hate group. The Denver Post is not naming the group in order to avoid giving it unnecessary attention.
Samuel Cordova, 20, was arrested for investigation of a bias-motivated crime with property damage, said Christine Downs, a Denver police spokeswoman. The incident was first reported by 9News.
Despite the hateful stickers, BookBar owner Nicole Sullivan never considered nixing the drag queen reading, an event designed to celebrate LGBT Pride Month.
“I didn’t think about canceling the event, because then where do you draw the line as a business?” she said. “You have one person trying to intimidate, but you have an event you feel strongly about doing and a community that is coming out to support you.”
As police conducted an investigation outside, Blow resumed reading.
“Let’s take a couple of deep breaths,” she told her audience. “Now, let’s get back to storytime.”
When Sullivan called Blow that morning to tell her about the stickers, the performer admitted to a moment of trepidation.
“They already have very strong feelings against what you’re doing,” Blow said. “My hesitation was, you just never know what someone is capable of when they’re angry or irritated.”
But Blow said she’s not one to back down.
“I said to myself, ‘We’re gonna be fine,’” she said. “I’m a big man in a pretty dress and we’ll be reading beautiful stories.”
Due to the threats, police were already stationed outside when Cordova approached the store. After the short pursuit, officers caught the suspect at the intersection of Tennyson Street and the Stuart Street alley. Cordova threw his backpack to the ground and dropped a can of black primer spray, according to a Denver Police Department probable cause statement.
While an arrest took place down the block, the children stayed focus on their extravagant reader.
Blow’s reading list included books such as Todd Parr’s “It’s Okay to Be Different” and Jessica Hische’s “Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave.” Both books are centered on themes of openness and acceptance in light of pride month.
The fact that the incident occurred a day before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots was not lost on Blow.
“An event like that, with the threat of disruption and violence toward people in the LGBTQ+ community, still lets us know we’ve come a long way, but there’s much work to be done,” Blow said.
Less than five hours after the vandalism on Thursday night — after the police and the media and even Sullivan had left for home — the BookBar owner got a call. A neighbor, unbeknownst to her, had come over to scrub the graffiti off her window.
Sullivan offered the Good Samaritan a free drink or a free book for the efforts, but the person refused.
“The neighbor just said, ‘I love you guys and I wanted to do something to help,” Sullivan said.