Criticism and backlash from a viral video is a shock for Utah tea and wine shop

‘Nobody … was sexualizing things,’ the girl’s father says in response to online harassment.

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tea Zaanti on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022 in Sugarhouse. In August, a video of a child dancing at a drag show at the shop went viral, prompting online attacks.

A Salt Lake City tea shop is battling back against attacks on Yelp and other review sites after the business hosted an all-ages drag show — and videos from the show, in which a young girl danced with a drag queen, went viral.

Tea Zaanti in Sugar House was hit with “an endless barrage of harassment” after the video was posted on the Instagram account of Libs of Tiktok, said Scott Lyttle, who owns the shop with his wife Becky. The attacks came through social channels, the chat function on the shop’s website, and reviews on such platforms as Yelp and Google.

Lyttle said they have been called child abusers, groomers and disgusting perverts, and been compared to disgraced financier Jeffery Epstein, who died in jail while facing charges of sex trafficking.

“It’s a mess,” Lyttle said. “Most of these people aren’t even from Utah.”

August Wachter, the father of the girl in the video, told The Salt Lake Tribune he was appalled by the response to the video — particularly by the threats, and the accusation that his daughter was being sexualized by dancing with drag queens.

“Nobody in that crowd, on that stage, was sexualizing things,” Wachter said. (The Tribune is not using the girl’s name.)

The drag show is an all-ages event, called “Bes-Teas,” scheduled on the third Friday of every month at Tea Zaanti. Tara Lipsyncki, a Utah drag queen, produces the event to be family-friendly, with no swearing and performing Disney songs.

The idea behind the all-ages show, Lipsyncki said, is that “you have a generation saying that a child can be who a child wants to be and loved unconditionally.”

During the Aug. 19 show, Wachter’s daughter started dancing to the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” from the Disney movie “Encanto,” and later holding hands with a drag queen and collecting tips from the enthusiastic audience.

The little girl “got so inspired she ran up to the stage and started dancing,” Lyttle said. “The crowd loved it.”

Lipsyncki agreed, noting that the queen was “dancing innocently with a kid.”

Wachter said his daughter suffers from anxiety, but has always found an outlet in dance. “The fact that she was able to get up there with total strangers, be brave enough to do her thing, it was heartening for us,” he said.

Six days later, on Aug. 25, Tea Zaanti posted two video clips from the show on social media. The shop’s manager asked for and got permission from the Wachters to post the video.

Then Libs of Tiktok picked up the video, and the torrent of negative comments began.

“Evil people are doing the devil’s work here,” posted one Yelp commenter from Florida. “That is just plain child abuse,” said another, from Texas. “Maybe the people who make decisions here are all about abusing children for their pleasure,” wrote one in Arizona.

It got to the point where Yelp temporarily disabled posting to Tea Zaanti’s page, citing “increased public attention, which often means people come to this page to post their views on the news.”

On Google, Lyttle said, the shop’s rating dropped from 4.9 stars (out of five) to 4.7 stars in a matter of hours. Google has deleted the one-star comments that included the harassing language, Lyttle said, but one-star reviews without comments are not immediately removed.

Wachter said he was shocked that Instagram allows the Libs of Tiktok account to remain active, considering the comments left on the video — such as suggestions that their daughter be taken away from them.

“The actual grooming that’s happening is on the other side, where all these people are grooming their kids to hate other people because of how they dress and who they love,” Watcher said. “As parents, we’re trying to raise our kids to be good, respectful human beings for everyone around them.”

Lipsyncki said this is not a new issue, it’s just become amplified recently. She points to recent events at Brigham Young University in Provo, where the university’s queer community was heckled by a crowd of protestors at a welcome event last weekend. Libs of Tiktok posted about that event, too.

“It’s a giant brushfire right now,” she said. “This isn’t my first time dealing with this here in Utah. It’s definitely the loudest and most threatened I and other performers have been.”

She said there is “a deep hatred in the Mormon, Republican culture here toward the LGBTQIA community, and anyone that’s different because we are, in their mind, infiltrating their safe space.”

Lipsyncki added, “We’ve always been here. Utah isn’t the super red state it was even 10 years ago. It’s changing and these people are just trying to hold onto this idea of what they want Utah to be and what they want their children to be a part of.”

Lyttle said it never crossed their minds that anyone would react this way to the idea of a drag show. For a business the Lyttles have run for more than five years, relocated to its current location just before the COVID-19 pandemic, and received national acclaim, the criticism is a shock.

“We’re not a coffee shop, a traditional cafe, or a wine bar,” Lyttle said. “We’re just a place for people to gather and have a conversation.”

Watcher said the attacks have been eye-opening, and have encouraged him to be a better and more vocal ally to the LGBTQ community — who, he said, are really being attacked here.

Lyttle said the LGBTQ community has continued to support Tea Zaanti through this, and has shown him the challenges the community faces.

“It’s easy for me to ignore because it doesn’t define who I am,” Lyttle said. “This is who [they] are.”

Lipsyncki said the all-ages drag shows will continue, even if she has to add security to protect performers, audiences and the venue.

“What is the true issue? Why are you scared of this drag performance? What is your core issue? Is it that you do not believe in homosexuality and think it’s a sin?” Lipsyncki said. “OK, that’s fine. Then don’t come to the show. I don’t go to your church and protest.”

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