How a Utah drag queen wrote a book, opened a store, and faced Proud Boys and a bomb threat — all in a year

Tara Lipsyncki talks about advocating for LGBTQ+ people, telling stories and standing up to bullies.

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) Drag queen Tara Lipsyncki browses books at The King's English Bookshop, where she has led a monthly drag story time this summer. Her event on Sept. 24, 2023, was canceled after someone called in a bomb threat.

On a warm, calm day in mid-September, Utah drag queen Tara Lipsyncki sat on the outdoor patio of The King’s English Bookshop, talking about why she advocates for trans youth and adults.

“If you don’t go against the grain, and you don’t stand up for the marginalized human,” she said, “you’re not doing anything of value, in my mind, at least.”

On Sunday, 10 days after that interview, Lipsyncki was grabbing her keys and heading out the door to go to her monthly drag story time event at The King’s English, when the store’s co-owner, Calvin Crosby, called to tell her there had been a bomb threat.

Salt Lake City police had arrived at the store, and the event was canceled. While no device was found, as a precaution, the store stayed closed for the day.

On Monday, Lipsyncki said the threat made her think back to Jan. 21, when the all-ages drag show she organizes saw an armed protest from Proud Boys. She put the show on hiatus for a month, then brought it back at a different Salt Lake City location, protected by armed supporters.

Both times, Lipsyncki said, she felt like she wasn’t safe in her own house or outside of it.

She realizes, she said, that continuing her fight has consequences: “It keeps putting businesses and other people in danger that they didn’t sign up for.”

However, she added, “I can’t stop. It’s kind of like you’re riding a bike, and you put a stick in the tire and the bike does a flip. If I was to stop, that’s what would happen [to] this whole entire movement. … [If] I don’t continue this fight, it’s not going to happen and we’re not going to have progress.”

Part of Lipsyncki’s advocacy work, her fight for rights in the face of angry and sometimes armed protests, is telling stories and creating safe spaces. In October, she’s set to release a children’s book she’s written, and she’s planning to open a bookstore and LGBTQ+ community space in Provo.

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) Drag queen Tara Lipsyncki browses books at The King's English Bookshop, where she has led a monthly drag story time this summer. Her event on Sept. 24, 2023, was canceled after someone called in a bomb threat.

A wave of anti-LGBTQ+ hate

Events like the January protest and this week’s bomb threat have spiked nationwide. A report issued in July by the Anti-Defamation League and the LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD found that from June 2022 to April 2023, there were 356 acts of anti-LGBTQ+ hate and extremist incidents in the United States, more than one per day. Of those, 138 happened around drag events and performers.

GLAAD also reported in July that it documented 145 anti-LGBTQ+ incidents nationwide this June — the time celebrated nationally as Pride Month. That figure was more than three times the number reported for June 2022.

According to the Utah Department of Public Safety’s crime database, there have been 63 anti-LGBTQ+ incidents in Utah this year (as of July 25). That’s more than the hate-crime reports against all other demographic groups combined. It’s almost double the number of anti-LGBTQ+ incidents reported in Utah in all of 2022.

Lipsyncki and The King’s English started the drag story time event in June, a monthly gathering where she reads three stories to about 15 to 20 people who sign up.

In mid-September, before the threat, she said there hadn’t been any pushback. “There’s no contention. We haven’t had any protestors,” she said.

“The first couple we had were, like, 25, 30 people,” both children and adults, she said at the time. “They’re kind of just like, ‘Hey, what is this?’ And now it’s lost that novelty of being scared or scary or anything like that, which is great, because it’s normalized now.”

Lipsyncki said Monday that she sat down with the bookshop team and talked about wanting to continue — and they told her they were still on board. Crosby confirmed that the event would continue, with a new security plan.

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tara Lipsyncki addresses the audience at a drag show in St. George, held June 30, 2023. The show happened after a federal judge issued an injunction in a lawsuit accusing the city of discrimination for not giving a drag group a permit to perform.

Performing ‘in the dirt’

In July, Lipsyncki went to St. George, to help fight for the rights of drag queens there. Again, she took a story book.

She was supporting Mitski Avalōx and her group, Southern Utah Drag Stars, which has filed a lawsuit — with help from the American Civil Liberties Union — against the city of St. George, alleging discrimination for denying a permit for a drag show. Lipsyncki provided a declaration to the court, backing the Drag Stars.

The lawsuit is ongoing, but a federal judge granted an injunction to allow the performance. Avalōx had essentially two days to organize the event, which happened, Lipsyncki said, “in the rodeo grounds in the dirt.”

About 50 protestors showed up, according to The Tribune’s reporting at the time.

“It was funny because they didn’t care about the actual drag,” Lipsyncki said. “As soon as I started reading [the children’s book] ‘No One Owns the Colors,’ that’s when they started revving their engines and yelling.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tara Lipsynscki performs at the Bes-Teas all-ages drag show at Sugar Space, on Friday, March 10, 2023. The show was moved to that venue after armed Proud Boys protested outside a Jan. 21, 2023, show at a Sugar House tea shop.

Her own story

The books Lipsyncki reads at drag story time soon will include her own.

Lipsyncki has written a children’s book, “Letter From the Queen,” illustrated by another Utah drag performer, Cherry Mock. It’s set to be released on Oct. 11 — which is both National Coming Out Day and the birthday of Lipsyncki’s mother.

(The book launch had been scheduled to take place at The King’s English — but, Lipsyncki said, it’s moving to another location for safety and weather precautions.)

Lipsyncki, who was born and raised in what she called a “conservative Mormon household” around Kearns and Riverton, said the book is autobiographical.

“The idea of it came from wishing I had a letter to myself when I was younger,” Lipsyncki said.

“The book is about a kid named Ben, who is bullied and really just doesn’t know if it’s gonna be OK,” she said. “He’s very downtrodden and everything. Then, one night, he magically gets a letter from the Queen, and that’s the story — how he perceives that and what he learns.”

The letter gives Ben a glimpse into and reassurance about his future — a message anyone, of any age, wants to hear from their future selves. “When you are young, you think, ‘Am I going to be loved? Is this OK? Is everything going to work out?’” she said.

The book, she said, is something she feels is really needed in this moment of history — which is one reason she rushed its publication over the last six months.

“We need it before the general elections,” she said. “We need this out to spread the word and to help show that this isn’t a bad thing.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tara Lipsyncki takes the stage with the rest of the performers at the Bes-Teas all-ages drag show at Sugar Space, on Friday, March 10, 2023.

Creating safe spaces

Lipsyncki said her overall mission is “to help queer and trans youth and teens become queer and trans adults — like, keep them alive.”

That mission is driving her new business and community space in Provo, called Mosaics, just minutes from the campus of Brigham Young University, which she intends to open in late October.

This time last year, LGBTQ students at BYU celebrated coming back to school, and were met with 100 protesters.

“I’m going to take the fight right into Provo and say ‘OK, we’re here. We’ve been here,’” she said.

It’s taken three years to find a venue, Lipsyncki said, because she set the goal of creating a space outside of Salt Lake City — which, she noted, already has safe spaces for queer youth, like the bookstores Under The Umbrella and The Legendarium.

Safe spaces “are what keep you alive,” she said, “having somewhere that someone who is in need can physically go to get food, stay out of the elements, get the help they need.”

Lipsyncki has had different ideas for what half of Mosaics will be — a tap room, a restaurant, a bistro, a coffee shop — before settling on a bookstore with vendor space, focused on queer and POC-centric consignment goods.

“My thought was, ‘I do not care what half of it is, as long as there’s a safe performance space for artists to express themselves,’” she said, adding that she also wants Mosaics to be a home for area LGBTQ+ groups — such as a Provo drag troupe or student resource groups that aren’t supported by nearby universities.

“A mosaic, by nature, is a very collective image that makes the whole picture, but there’s not soft edges to it. It’s very hard,” she said. “These are hard pieces — these are very hurt marginalized communities. They’re gonna come together to make an image. It’s not like a soft little watercolor. It’s a mosaic, because we are jamming this together to make a picture to make something beautiful.”

If the Provo location is successful, Lipsyncki said the ultimate vision is to open others like it in Davis County, Washington County and elsewhere around Utah.

The experiences of 2023, particularly the armed protesters who came to her January show, have left Lipsyncki on the defensive. At Mosaics, she said, she’s had assessors help plan exit strategies in case of a mass shooting or similar event. “I expect the worst, so I always plan for it,” she said.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to not let that happen again,” she said. “I can’t stop the world from being what it is, but I can protect those that I choose to protect.”

The most important thing, she said, is to follow through on the promises she’s made, to herself and to the community, to be her authentic self.

“I’m not scared to be who I am,” she said. “But I’m definitely aware.”

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