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News / Northwest

150 march to Richland City Hall for an apology after restaurant drag show threats

By Wendy Culverwell, Tri-City Herald
Published: April 20, 2023, 7:42am

KENNEWICK — Dara Quinn and her team at Emerald of Siam, bolstered by 150 supporters, marched to Richland City Hall on Tuesday in search of an apology.

They didn’t get it.

City spokeswoman Hollie Alexander said the city would not comment on the Emerald of Siam or the controversy and harassment that enveloped the 40-year-old business over an all-ages Easter Day drag performance.

Instead, she said the city reaffirms its commitment to its values, vision and mission, which includes a commitment to being a “progressive, safe and family-friendly community that welcomes diversity.”

Quinn said respect and a sense of security have been lacking since her music venue began receiving harassing phone calls at the end of March.

She asked the city for support and learned that Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Richardson had commented at a previous meeting that she was “sad” about a family-friendly drag show on Easter and had encouraged critics to send polite letters.

Protests, vandalism and even a written death threat to the restaurant owners followed.

“We have yet to receive any sort of apology,” Quinn said.

Richardson later told the Herald she also received threats over her comments, which she said were not intended to spark harassment.

Tuesday, Emerald of Siam organized a peaceful march from the Uptown Shopping Center to Richland City Hall. Richland police accompanied the group and closed intersections as sign-waving participants crossed Jadwin Avenue and Swift Boulevard.

Passing motorists honked support, with one yelling “thank you” to the long line of pedestrians, roller skaters and even a unicycle rider.

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Record crowd

Once at city hall, the crowd milled in the foyer for about 20 minutes, waiting for the council’s regular business session to start. The city attorney said the standing-room-only crowd was the largest in memory.

Quinn said she was grateful for the turnout.

“We have a large community that supports love and inclusion,” she said.

Mayor Terry Christensen allowed 45 minutes for public comments on the topic, with speakers limited to two minutes each.

At the podium, Quinn told the city’s elected leaders her mother started Emerald of Siam Thai Restaurant and Lounge four decades ago and that she is a mother, business owner, resident and taxpayer.

Her business has hosted thousands of performances, prides itself on being a safe place for guests of all ages and orientations and has been honored by the city for its contributions to the arts.

Now, she said, she is being harassed and lost both revenue and her sense of security because some misunderstand Emerald and its inclusive mission.

“I would never host an event that negatively affects the community,” she told the council.

Shaken us all

Several speakers on both sides of the issue declined to give their specific home addresses for the record when they got up to speak, saying they were nervous about retaliation.

“This shooting threat has shaken us all,” said Justin Chapman, a longtime employee and now partner. He asked the mayor pro tem to “ratchet down” the rhetoric.

“People have been put in danger. Property has been vandalized,” said Tim Thornton, Emerald’s general manager.

He said the business leveraged the controversy to raise nearly $5,000 for the Trevor Project, a nonprofit supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer youth. He asked the city to match its donation.

Other speakers lamented that a welcoming venue that celebrates Richland in all its diversity is under fire.

One man said taking a young family member to Tri-City cultural events has lost some of its appeal.

“My 12-year-old nephew is not as safe at these events because of your words,” he told the council.

Richardson defended

Richardson’s supporters rallied behind her message and her right to speak her opinion, with some citing her First Amendment right to free speech. Several said she can’t be held responsible for the vandalism and threats, noting her message encouraged politeness.

“This has all been blown out of proportion,” said Kathleen Schweiger, a lifelong Richland resident. “I am sorry for those who received threats, including Theresa Richardson.”

Brad Klippert, a Kennewick resident, Benton County sheriff’s deputy and seven-term former Washington state lawmaker, said he stood with Richardson’s view that Easter was not the day for a drag performance.

Klippert, who recently registered with the Public Disclosure Commission to run for Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2024, noted U.S. currency and the Pledge of Allegiance both reference God.

A drag brunch on Easter was “spitting in God’s face,” he said.

Klippert cited two Biblical passages, Deuteronomy 22:5 , which says a woman shall not wear a man’s garment nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, and Luke 17:2, which Klippert explained prescribes death to those who offend little ones.

Shir Regev, a Hanford health physics technician who was Klippert’s challenger in the 2020 state house election, was one of the final speakers.

Rather than seek an apology on Emerald’s behalf, she challenged the council to ask itself what it will do and say to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

A recording to the council meeting can be found on the city’s website at Richland Cityview.