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Vernon queer community ‘disheartened’ after drag show cancellation

Freida Whales had been scheduled to perform at Status Nightclub in Vernon on Feb. 10
(Jillian Karpick/Photographer)

Members of the queer community in Vernon are speaking out to express their heartbreak and disappointment after a long-running drag show with performer Freida Whales was cancelled two days before the event.

Whales is a Kelowna-based drag performer known off-stage as Tyson Cook. Whales had been scheduled to perform at Status Nightclub in Vernon on Feb. 10, before being notified of the cancellation on Feb. 8.

Cook confirmed that the show was cancelled by the nightclub but was otherwise unavailable for comment.

The Vernon drag show at Status was scheduled to take place on the same day as a drag storytime event where Freida Whales read to children and families. Approximately six protestors were in attendance outside the venue.

In addition to shows at bars that are intended for adult audiences, Cook also dons the iconic Freida Whales wig and Crocs to read to families at drag storytime community events.

Over the past two years, Cook has been subject to online hate, defamatory comments and protests due to the drag story times that he hosts as the character Whales.

READ MORE: Kelowna drag queen praises Ontario court ruling over ‘groomer’ 2SLGBTQIA slur

At the time that the Status show was cancelled, emails were reportedly sent to multiple venues where Cook performs as Whales.

Capital News has received copies of the emails.

Attached in the emails is a link to a YouTube video where Cook is dressed up as a character called Killa Whales. In the video, Killa Whales acts in a music video skit where they murder a man.

Saverio Loria, the owner of Status Nightclub, did respond to an interview request from Capital News but said that due to time constraints would be unavailable to talk until after the publication deadline. Black Press Media will update this story with comment when made available.

Status Nightclub did post on Facebook regarding the cancellation.

“I’m 100% for supporting LGBQ+ (sic) but I cannot support Freida Whales from what I seen on the video,” reads the post from Status Nightclub.

“I also did it for the safety of Freida Whales, myself and all staff,” said the nightclub on Facebook.

The Facebook post was later deleted.

Katie Wilson, a Vernon-based drag performer with the stage name Mick VanDyke said that she understands and respects the need for all people to feel safe.

“We really do need more safe spaces for queer performers. It’s risky to perform as a gay person, let alone as a drag performer.”

Wilson said that they have faced harassment and intimidation based on the fact that they are queer.

She said that it is important for queer people to have spaces where they can express themselves.

“There are not a lot of venues that are open to showcasing queer performers,” said Wilson.

Ayla Marie Cooper, a Vernon resident who had been attending drag shows hosted by Whales at Status for three years, explained that as a queer person, she does not feel safe in all spaces. Cooper said Status nightclub was a place where she and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community felt that they could have fun and express themselves without judgment or fear for their safety.

“We felt safe at Status, and to have that ripped from the 2SLGBTQIA+ community has been absolutely heartbreaking,” said Cooper.

“Having drag nights in Vernon was such a good step in the right direction, and I feel that the rug was pulled from under us,” said Cooper about the last-minute cancellation.

In light of rising anti-LGBTQIA+ hate Copper expressed it can be scary for her and her girlfriend to be out in public together. Statistics Canada data shows that police-reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation rose by approximately 169 per-cent from 2018 to 2022.

“It’s really disheartening to see this kind of hate bloom up in the community,” said Cooper.

Capital News reached out to a Kelowna venue that confirmed it also received the defamatory emails sent about Whales. The venue will continue to support Whales but asked not to be included in the article for fear of backlash.

Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

I'm a reporter in the beginning stages of my career. I joined the team at Capital News in November 2021...
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