A brewing company in Iowa received a barrage of negative reviews on Facebook this week after trolls got wind of an event that staffers are hosting for LGBTQ kids, but kindhearted members of the community soon came to the rescue online.
Thew Brewing Company, a taproom and community space in Cedar Rapids, had planned a public drag bingo night for Feb. 8, as well as another drag bingo event earlier that day for kids from the Tanager Place LGBTQ Youth Center.
Haley Flenker, co-owner of Thew, told BuzzFeed News that during the last drag bingo fundraiser for the center, some kids had expressed their interest in attending.
The bar wasn't able to accommodate them then, Flenker said — so while planning this next event, they scheduled a private drag bingo party earlier in the day, specifically for the Tanager Place kids.
Thew shared a registration link for the earlier event with Tanager Place privately, but word quickly spread.
"It ended up on another page for the [LGBTQ] community," Flenker said, "which is great."
However, she said, somehow "the trolls found out and have been on us ever since."
Flenker said the negative reviews began pouring in Wednesday night.
Dozens of trolls on Facebook accused the bar of "pushing the gay/drag agenda" on children, among other things.
But the reaction from the community was swift.
Locals responded to the wave of bad reviews in full force, writing glowing review after glowing review to counter the hateful messages.
Soon, the overwhelming number of positive reviews on the bar's Facebook page almost entirely drowned out the ones targeting it for the drag bingo event.
Cedar Rapids resident AJ Hope said he first saw the bad reviews when he looked at the event on Facebook. He didn't pay too much attention to them until he saw a friend's post asking people to leave positive reviews for the bar to counteract the trolls.
Hope, who does drag as Hollywood Hope, told BuzzFeed News in a direct message that he knows how mean people can be, having experienced anti-gay sentiments firsthand as an openly gay homecoming king in Iowa in 2012.
"I just wanted to do my part to help out," he said.
Flenker said the community's response has been heartwarming.
"I have loved reading every single positive review from everyone here. I love reading their experiences," she said. "It makes us feel so good about the community we’re in […] that they’re willing to rally around something like this."
Both drag bingo events on Saturday are still on the bar's schedule. The one for the Tanager kids was initially planned as a private event, but now that others know about it, Flenker said she'll accommodate as many people as she can — although the kids from Tanager will have priority.
"We just want to have a fun event and provide a warm and welcoming event for them," she said.
As for the trolls, Flenker doubts their online hate campaign will translate to an in-person protest.
"I’m prepared for it but I don’t necessarily expect it," she said. "Most of the comments, reviews, bad things that are being said are coming from people who are not even in the state of Iowa — or even in the country."
Though the nighttime event is sold out, Hope said he and his friends are considering going anyway and hanging out outside in case there are any protesters.
"I haven’t been to that bar before, but that’s most definitely gonna change soon," he said. "Gotta support those who support you and your community, ya know?”
"We’re gay [as fuck] and loud as hell!" Hope said. "The small-minded straights have nothing on us and all our shine!"
Craig Silverman contributed reporting to this story.