Protests over Drag Queen Q&A at Talcott Library cost more than $14,000


Police escort a prayer march by Rockford Family Initiative past the barricades around the Pride party at Village Green Park in Rockton, IL, on July 14, 2023.

More than $14,000 was spent by government agencies in preparation for protests over Talcott Library's Drag Queen Q&A event, according to data from Freedom of Information requests by Rockton resident Katie Littlefield. Expenses for first responders on alert were the highest, followed by barricades to close Main Street.

A previous version of this article included the wrong total for expenses resulting from the controversy.

Protests during the June 26 library board meeting included signs and prayers by Rockford Family Initiative at the Rockton Township Community Center and a march by Rockton Pride. The library board voted 4-2 to go ahead with the drag event. 

Protests against the event by Rockford Family Initiative, but not Rockton Pride, continued on July 10-14, 2023 in front of the library. After the board meeting, Rockton Pride announced they would not hold further protests but threw a party on July 14 instead. They scheduled the party at Village Green Park at the same time as the Q&A, which was eventually held virtually for safety.

Some of the cost figures were not separated out by day, but most of the items were focused on July 14, 2023, the day of the virtual drag Q&A, the Pride party at Village Green Park, and a larger protest by Rockford Family Initiative at Talcott Free Library. Though the two groups said they would keep apart, members of Rockford Family Initiative (RFI) made an unofficial prayer march past the party at the park. Its leader hastened to assure me that they were not acting on behalf of RFI, but held the march after the official meeting in front of the library had been dismissed.

Agency Cost
Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office $1,570.72
South Beloit Police Department $174.75
Talcott Free Library $317.50
Roscoe Police Department $0
Rockton Police Department $6,050.84
Rockton Fire Protection District $1,223.32
Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) $2,538.10
Illinois State Police $0
Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) no response
Rockton Public Works $2,265.50
Total $14,140.73

Chief Matthew Hollinger of the Rockton Police gave a thorough and pointed report, noting there were additional costs that he wasn't including, such as "planning and preparation" or support from other departments. However, some of the officers he listed would have been on duty anyway.  He separated out June 26, where officers were on duty for 3.5 hours, from the other days, where officers were on duty from 2 to 9 hours. He did not distinguish how many hours they spent monitoring the RFI protests between July 10-12 compared to the events of July 14, but they were not all on duty during all nine hours of activity that week. During the library board meeting on June 26, which included prayer and protests, Rockton Police officers served 18.5 hours of regular time and 23.5 hours of overtime. Between July 10-14, they served 24.5 hours of regular time and 50 hours of overtime. In total, Rockton Ppolice protection cost $2,184.17 for June 26 and $3,866.67 for July 10-14. Mutual aid from ILEAS cost $2,538.10 for July 14.

The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office said they did not send any officers for the board meeting on June 26, or the RFI protests between July 10-12. But they said that on July 14, four deputies, one sergeant, and one lieutenant were assigned for five hours to a "planned protest," for a total of $1570.72. Chief Matthew Hollinger says they helped with crowd control at the park and at the library.

After law enforcement, the second biggest expense was for the Rockton Public Works department for renting and setting up 140 crowd control barricades. They also had five employees drawing overtime on July 14.

Drag queen Krystal Ball performs at the Pride Party immediately after the virtual Drag Q&A, July 14, 2023, Rockton, IL. Photo: Abby Clarke

Opponents of the drag Q&A had asked why Krystal Ball, a drag performer who does adult shows, would be invited to a youth event at a library. In the end, the event was held virtually on Zoom, with attendance limited and anonymous, and no drag performance. A woman who attended the Q&A said:

"Krystal Ball explained in detail how being a drag queen is entertainment. She explained and named several actors (like Robin Williams & Bob Hope) who performed in this type of entertainment. She discussed how, as you develop your personality, you also learn dressing and make-up. She talked about the variety of places she has been asked to speak about her character. Questions from the participants were very respectful and informative. An example is what type or brand of make up she found best to use. Her answer included the importance of good skin care. I found the program informative and quite well done."

Littlefield asked at the Aug. 21 library board meeting, “Will the library be paying back the Village of Rockton for the cost incurred?" We asked the organizers of the protests if they thought they should share that expense.

Kevin Rilott, president of Rockford Family Initiative, said no, and told us:

As for the costs, the Rockford Family Initiative agrees the Talcott Library should cover the costs of all individuals and groups who had expenses for opposing their harmful agenda of exposing children to pornographic books and the grooming by adult-males dressing as sexualized buffoonish-looking women to destroy the goodness and purity of children thereby leaving these children open to the sexual fantasies-agenda of disordered adults.... We did not request that the street be closed down. That was a decision made by the Police.

Though she does not speak for Rockton Pride, Jessica Green, a Hononegah grad who was one of the organizers of the Pride events, told us:

The Talcott Drag Q and A event was in place and had it gone on undisturbed, these costs would not have been necessary. I believe any costs that were incurred - on the 26th, the days leading up to the 14th, and on the 14th itself - were a direct result of hate groups that chose to come to Rockton to protest and make our community feel unsafe. These costs, as I see it, were necessary to ensure the safety of our community members, as we faced threats to our safety, harassment, and bigotry. It is the responsibility of our local first responders to take actions necessary to protect ALL members of their community, regardless of cost and affiliation. And that is exactly what they did - for both groups, on both sides of the issue. Furthermore, the protection of one group over another and what is worth the cost should never be up for debate. Not to mention, the LGBTQ and drag community members of Rockton are ALSO taxpayers. So, why are we not worth the cost of protection, especially within our own community? The fact that this event has drawn such major speculation and hatred sets a dangerous precedent. Every event that happens in our town will be picked apart and analyzed to determine if it fits within the “moral values” of certain members of the community. These moral values being those of cis [non-trans], white, straight, majority Christian individuals. But where do we draw the line between what values represent the diverse communities of Rockton, and who deserves representation and protection?

Both sides agree that one of the most aggressive individuals on June 26 did not represent either group, but had just exited a bar on Main Street Rockton.

First responders told us they had received no actual threats on July 14, but that mutual aid programs are alerted whenever there are planned protests. The Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) is a  tactical resource that helps police with larger scale incidents. MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) provides assistance for fire, EMS, and specialized incident operational teams. Both were prepared to help in Rockton.

Chief Matthew Hollinger explained what ILEAS did:

The Mobile Field Force Teams, comprised of regional law enforcement officers from numerous police departments, are trained in crowd control tactics to include: De-escalation, Crowd Management, Arrest Tactics, and Crowd Dispersing. These teams have experience with managing planned protests. I coordinated with ILEAS leaders prior to the July 14th event and during the event to discuss our response plans. We had a dozen members of the Mobile Field Force staged during the event in a centralized location. Although they were deployed, they were not utilized to manage the protests directly unless a situation presented itself. Thankfully, there were little to no issues during this event.

Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said on July 14 only, they had additional personnel on standby and that MABAS was involved with the event. Chief Wilson told us, "To my knowledge, there were no arson threats made to the fire district. Basically, we were preparing for civil unrest."

Talcott Free Library ordinarily holds its board meetings in their own Keefer Room, since reportedly they never had visitors. But because of expected crowds, they paid $50 to rent the Rockton Township Community Center on June 26. They also spent $117.50 on a consultation with the law firm of Ancel Glink. The fee for the drag queen, Krystal Ball, was $150, but in response to criticism over taxpayer money being used for the Q&A event, Rockton Pride raised $1,000 to cover that fee and “in hopes that it will be used to facilitate additional inclusive and welcoming events for the Talcott district.” They later clarified that the gift was unrestricted.

More about the issue

Talcott's Drag Q&A: where and why

Drag Q&A Event Protests and Pride Party

Rockton residents react to drag protest expenses

No counter-protest at Talcott Library, Rockton Pride plans party instead

Drag event at Rockton library will be virtual

Talcott Library board votes 4-2 to proceed with Drag Q&A

Divided opinions on Drag Q&A at Talcott Free Library

Talcott Library Board Meeting


Towards a united and proud Rockton, not division

On Behalf of the Old Stone Church

Clearing The Air

Talcott Library Drag Queen

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