Bayard Rustin Center is latest victim of bogus threats

Drag Queen Carrie Dragshaw, also known as Dan Clay, leads the Drag Queen story hour on the steps of Trinity Church in Princeton on Saturday after the event had to be moved from the Bayard Rustin Center due to a bogus threat. Photo courtesy of the Bayard Rustin Center.

The Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice is the latest Princeton organization to be targeted with a bogus threat of violence. Such fake threats are known as swatting, a criminal harassment tactic that deploys police and emergency services to an address by falsely reporting a bomb threat or other incident or making threats. In the past, schools and shopping centers in the area have been the subject of such threats.

Police said that on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 10:49 a.m., the Princeton Police Department received an email that contained derogatory remarks aimed at LGBTQIA people, as well as people affiliated with the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice. The email also falsely claimed that explosive devices were placed in and around the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice on Stockton Street in Princeton. The email was first sent to News 12, then forwarded to the Edison Police Department, which forwarded it to the Princeton Police.

Police officers were dispatched to the building and everyone was evacuated. A canine sweep
of the building and surrounding area was completed, and no explosive devices were found. Police said at about 12:40 p.m., the occupants were allowed back into the building. The detective bureau for the police department is conducting a follow-up investigation into the case.

The email was forwarded to the police just before the scheduled start of the drag queen story hour at the Bayard Rustin Center. The story hour, led by Carrie Dragshaw, was moved outdoors. About 40 people attended the event, including Bayard Rustin staff, residents, and about half a dozen children.

Police issued information to the press about the event on Monday afternoon. The Bayard Rustin Center sent out its own extensive press release on Sunday. The release included a photo of the attendees, a photo of drag queen Carrie Dragshaw, and several photos of Bayard Rustin leader Robt Seda-Schreiber.

“The Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice is founded on the very principle of building family through community as our queer ancestors have always done. The safe-space we offer to our LGBTQIA youth, intersectional families, & all our beautifully diverse folx is not only a physical entity but indeed something we carry within our hearts & our souls. These despicable actions threatened, this dishonest bigoted rhetoric espoused, this abhorrent hate will only ever be answered by a stronger, braver, & more empowering message of love,” wrote Seda Schreiber in the release. “This darkness will always & ever be dispelled by the light of us gathering together, more resilient & more stalwart in strength & solidarity. This principle was put into direct & robust action today as this bomb threat might’ve kept us from our BRCSJ HQ but did not stop us from gathering together in Beloved Community & in family, chosen & otherwise. We simply took a fabulous field trip down the block to a nearby stoop & shared our stories, created community, & embraced each other, both literally & figuratively, with great respect & even more LOVE!”

Drag Queen Carrie Dragshaw, also known as Dan Clay, expressed appreciation for the love and joy in the community.

“I think the voices of negativity can be loud, but I believe the voices of positivity are greater,” Dragshaw said. “A kid was wearing a shirt that said ‘We’re stronger together,’ and I really believe that. I’m a firm believer in not letting the negativity take over the narrative.”

Martha Hickson, the Bayard Rustin Center librarian in residence, said she was proud to be part of the event to promote love and inclusivity.

“The bomb threat turned out to be a dud, defused by the creativity and solidarity of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. In the spirit of its namesake Bayard Rustin, the Center engaged in some truly angelic troublemaking,” Hickson said. “Like a pretty Pied Piper, Carrie Dragshaw led the crowd to a nearby stoop and held the Drag Queen Story Hour as planned. The Center’s quick, calm, and caring approach was impressive; the kids thought the walk down the block was all part of the fun.”

A family that has come up from Neptune, N.J. for the show said their two-year-old daughter had an incredible time at the show, and that the threat was a disappointment. The organizers led a conga line of families over to a nearby church and story time went on, with the organizers playing games with the kids, the family said.