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Anti-LGBTQ attacks aimed at some central Ohio communities ahead of Columbus Pride celebration

Walking Distance Brewing Co. Marysville Ohio
Teddy Valinski
The owner Walking Distance Brewing Co. in Marysville, Ohio said his business has been attacked by the wife of a former mayor of Marysville and current city councilmember because the brewery hosted a drag show.

LGBTQ Pride flags were stolen in German Village over the weekend; city workers in Whitehall were allegedly attacked in late May while they painted a sidewalk in honor of Pride Month; and a brewery in Marysville is facing attacks because it hosts drag shows.

These are some of the examples of people targeted recently by anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and actions in central Ohio ahead of the region's largest LGBTQ Pride festival scheduled for this weekend in Columbus. The Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival and March brings in more than 750,000 visitors to the region annually.

Walking Distance Brewing Co. in Marysville posted Thursday on Facebook that is has faced a year of slander and harassment from Leslie Reams, the wife of former mayor and current city councilmember Mark Reams. Teddy Valinski, the brewery's owner, alleges Reams called his business "Little Epstein Island," and has spread rumors that his business is a pedophile ring.

Valinski said his brewery is openly LGBTQ-friendly and hosts drag shows in support of the LGBTQ community. He said he's seen a dip in sales since Reams allegedly made the comments.

"A couple of customers were scared to visit. They were supportive of us, but they were just scared to come out because we had been attacked so hard and they didn't want the collateral damage in it," Valinski said.

Valinski is organizing supporters of his brewery to attend the Marysville City Council meeting on Monday night to call for accountability and for Reams' husband to resign his seat on city council.

The city of Whitehall said in a Facebook post Thursday that employees of its service department were attacked while completing an annual crosswalk painting in honor of Pride Month. The city decided to stop making the display to protect the health and welfare of city staff.

"They were faced with disgusting intimidation tactics, violence, and destruction of work," the post said. "To protect the health and welfare of our City Staff we have opted to honor Pride month with alternate methods. These methods include Pride flags on street poles, erecting Pride signs in the community, painting the crosswalk directly in front of our City buildings, and issuing the first official Proclamation for Pride Month in the City of Whitehall."

All of this is happening during LGBTQ Pride Month, and hitting the news as the main festivities for central Ohio's largest pride festival nears this weekend.

Stonewall Columbus said in a statement the incidents were disheartening, but are not uncommon and there is an increased attention paid to these moments during Pride month and ahead of the organization's events.

"The reality is many of these incidents occur throughout the year and get far less attention paid to them," the statement said.

Valinski said he thinks there's no other explanation for these actions except "hate."

"There's no logic for it. I mean, to say someone's a pedophile based on having drag queens at a bar. Calling someone a pedophile, just because of their sexuality. It's pure hatred," Valinski said.

Neither Mark Reams nor Leslie Reams responded to a request for comment from WOSU.

Valinski said the two are members of the Union County Faith and Family Coalition, which he said formed shortly after Marysville started holding a Pride festival during the pandemic. The group has posted on its Facebook page criticizing a LGBTQ Pride display at the Marysville Public Library.

Reams attacked a member of the Marysville Public Library's Board of Trustees over Walking Distance Brewery's June 4 post. Reams used an account titled Respect Life Rally Marysville, identified herself and called the bar a "den of depravity."

The library board's vice president, Bill Forgette, defended the brewery against Reams. He said that breweries have become very family friendly over the past 20 years and told Reams to "call him a pedophile to his face."

"Hey, Bill, if the shoe fits... then you too are a pedophile. I've seen plenty of the stuff you do in this community and I know you are nasty," Reams said.

Valinski said the Union County Faith and Family Coalition made a PowerPoint and sent it to the city council calling the bar "Walking Distance Grooming Co."

Valinski described his bar as the only inclusive bar in Marysville. He said he thinks this started when the brewery hosted its first drag show last year.

"We opened up Walking Distance as we wanted it to be a place where everyone could be sitting at the bar. But, until we had that first drag show, we weren't. Really, we didn't have a message that let people know that we were fully welcome for them," Valinski said.

Valinski said he hopes in the future there will be someone in Marysville who steps up and runs for Marysville City Council against council members he said are participating in the rumors that Reams is spreading.

"I hope we're able to find people that are willing to run. Because it's not easy to run for local politics," Valinski said.

Valinski said after he made the Facebook post last week, his bar has been flooded with support. He said they hosted a drag show this weekend and since then they've seen an "exponential growth of people coming to support us."

Whitehall said in its statement that the city "will not be intimidated and stands with the LGBTQ+ community in promoting equal rights and condemning discrimination, prejudice, and violence in any form. We strive to maintain and uplift a community where everyone feels valued and respected."

The city said it filed a police report related to the incident.

Columbus police said they are investigating the flags that were stolen in German Village.

CPD said in a statement it plans to have a substantial presence during Pride this weekend, along with other community events throughout the summer. CPD said it's focus is on providing a safe and welcoming environment for all.

"Our officers are working in collaboration with event organizers and community partners on effective safety measures for this and all events," the statement said.

Stonewall Columbus said the community has had to face adversity for a long time and pointed out that the Stonewall Uprisings in New York City were a response to the adversity faced by the LGBTQ community in 1969 and before.

"Persevering in moments that challenge the existence of our identities is about ensuring one’s identity is seen and that the commitment to uplifting that identity is maintained. Persevering is not necessarily a sign of strength—it’s a reflection of dedication, a commitment to a thing," Stonewall Columbus said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.