Pride week in Portland has always been an important holiday in Michelle Porter's family. With two of her five children identifying as queer, Porter says, the annual event—with its colorful parades and performances—has become a fun way to celebrate her kids and support the local LGBTQ+ community.
This year, however, Porter says she's afraid to bring her family to any Portland Pride events.
That's because a few alt-right bloggers have used photos and videos of her 10-year-old son dressed in drag to spread anti-LGBTQ+ messaging across the internet, exposing Porter and her family to death threats and violent hate speech.
"It's so damaging and so, so ugly," says Porter, who hasn't slept the past few nights out of fear and anxiety about her family's safety. "And for this to take place during Pride—a time when I should be celebrating my kid and letting him have fun—it couldn't be worse."
Porter's son has been targeted for putting on drag performances in Portland.
Porter says her son, a "self-confident, flamboyant kid" who has presented himself as gender non-conforming since birth, became interested in drag two years ago after watching RuPaul's Drag Race. After learning that Portland had a thriving drag scene of its own, he begged his mom to take him to a show—and she complied.
"As soon as Sparkle saw them perform, he wanted to be a part of it," Porter says. She asked the Mercury to only refer to her son by his drag name, Sparkle Lynn More, for privacy.
Not long after, Sparkle began participating in family-friendly drag shows with local drag queens. Porter says the local drag community's support of her son's work has been "life-giving."
"He's a kid that doesn't always fit in," she says. "He doesn't have a whole lot of friends. [Drag] has become such a critical outlet for him. It's where he can be himself... it's been amazing for him."
On June 7, alt-right blog Gateway Pundit released a transphobic diatribe against a family-friendly Portland Pride event featuring Sparkle that took place later that day at Friendly House. The disturbing blog post sexualized children who dress in the opposite gender's clothes and scolded parents who let their kids do such a thing. It also shared photos from Sparkle's Instagram account, which is controlled by Porter.
Porter was immediately hit with death threats and homophobic tirades. Not long after, Porter got a notice that Sparkle's Instagram account has been flagged as inappropriate and was going to be deleted. Instagram is under the impression the account is run by Sparkle, not her mother, meaning it broke the app's 13-and-older account policy.
Porter is one of thousands of parents in the US who run an Instagram account for their kid, whether its just a baby in silly poses or a tiny fashion icon. Most of these underage Instagram influencers are used to sell products—and not all of them are even aware they're being used as an income source. That's not the case for Sparkle, whose mom only uses the account to promote performances and connect with other parents whose kids do drag.
Porter says there's one big different between her son's page and the thousands of other kid-centric accounts that aren't taken down by Instagram: Her son is queer.
"It's a homophobic move by Instagram," says Porter. "It shows the power that right-wing jerks have to silence the queer community online."
Hours after the Gateway Pundit article was published on June 7, a man attended Sparkle's performance and quietly filmed the entire show, later posting it online with homophobic captions dubbing adult drag queens as "pedophiles" and audience members as "sex offenders." Pictures he took of Sparkle quickly spread across the internet's anti-LGBTQ+ circles.
Porter remembers seeing the man at the show, but assumed he was affiliated with Friendly House.
"He was standing right next to me and my family the whole time," says Porter. "I only realized after the fact that it was on purpose."
Porter reported the man to the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) on Monday. But the officer she met with said that without an obvious threat or blatant anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech, law enforcement couldn't do much to hold Sparkle's attackers accountable.
In lieu of police protection, Porter has found security in another organization, one whose history is built on systematic indifference by law enforcement.
"The queer community has been amazing," Porter says. "They're used to the police not stepping up to protect their community. So they know how to take care of each other."
Leaders in Portland's queer community have quickly proliferated a photo of the man who filmed Sparkle, making sure he's not welcome at any Portland Pride events or in any LGBTQ+ venues. Many have reached out to Porter to offer security services and protection for her family during this particularly frightening time. And Portland's Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a LGBTQ+ charity group that (quite literally) act as the "nuns of the gay community", have invited Sparkle to join them in Portland's Pride parade—promising security and support.
"That's the beautiful piece of this," Porter says. "The queer community shows up for each other here in Portland. That means they're showing up for my child, too. As a mom, that's everything."