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Threats against Mobile LGBTQ book event prompt venue to cancel

An LGBTQ book event faced backlash and threats online, leading the venue Oyster City to cancel.

The cover of "Finding My Rainbow" by Josh Coleman.
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Cullman native Josh Coleman knew from the time he was a child that he was gay.

He describes the realization in his new children’s book “Finding My Rainbow” that the realization came the “same way one notices the sky turning pink at sunset—gradually, then all at once.”

“At school, while his friends talked about crushes on girls, Josh’s heart fluttered for someone else:his friend, Alex,” Coleman writes in the book.

Coleman, now the president of Central Alabama Pride, has hosted multiple events to promote the release of his book with proceeds going to LGBTQ charities including Central Alabama Pride.

But his event planned for Friday, July 12 has faced backlash online, leading the venue Oyster City to cancel the event.

At Oyster City Mobile, the safety of our employees and customers is our number one priority. That is why we are cancelling the event this Friday: Finding My Rainbow, from author Josh Coleman: Book Signing and Drag Queen Story Time,” Oyster City said in a statement Wednesday. “Multiple hateful and threatening comments on social media are being taken seriously by management in the interests of our staff and customers’ safety.”

Despite the cancellation, Oyster City said it “does not abide hate” and therefore will be donating $1 for every glass of brew poured on Friday to AIDS Alabama, the planned recipient of the fundraiser.

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The event will now be held instead at Books-a-Million, Coleman confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

Ophelia Nichols, better known as “Mama Tot” on social media, had originally been scheduled to have a meet and greet at the event, but pulled out after she said she received threats. APR could not reach Nichols for comment before publication.

Many of the comments can be seen on Facebook discussions of the event.

A Facebook post by Downtown Mobile Today notifying its followers of Mama Tot cancelling her appearance at the event garnered 516 comments and 105 shares as of publishing time.

Many comments criticized the events for “pushing sexuality onto kids.” Some seemed to take issue with the book; others took issue with the drag queen storytime.

APR reviewed the book and found it to have no sexual content whatsoever — there is no discussion even of kissing. In the story, Coleman recounts feeling that he was different from his peers, hearing them talk negatively about someone they perceived as gay, lying in bed haunted by a fear that he wouldn’t be loved. Coleman writes in the book that hearing about a pride event in Birmingham from his older cousin made him realize that some people do accept people like him, and that leading him to come out to his family and eventually become an LGBTQ activist.

Coleman said the current climate around LGBTQ issues in Alabama encouraged him to write the book.

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Just this week, lawmakers filed a bill to create a process to arrest librarians for shelving material “harmful to minors” in sections for minors—and changing the definition of “harmful to minors” to include vague “gender-oriented conduct.”

The bill’s history indicates that it is rooted in criminalizing drag time story hours at public and school libraries, and for shelving any books that promote to minors the concept that people can change genders.

A protest had been planned by Mobile resident Darren Sweeney, calling for people who “feel a strong urge in your core that something has to be done about this propaganda aimed at our children” to protest the event and let the organizers know that it is “not welcome and businesses that support it will be met with resistance and boycotts.”

On Jan.6, 2022, Sweeney posted a temporary profile picture on his Facebook page showing him standing outside the US Capitol building wearing a Trump beanie and hoisting an American flag in one hand and a “don’t tread on me” flag in the other.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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