The extremist group Awake Illinois booked a speaking event at the city-owned Des Plaines Theatre for February 8, 2023. In response, residents of Des Plaines spoke at Tuesday’s city council meeting to express their concerns with inviting this group into the community—a community that “embraces and honors diversity in all forms including: race, ethnicity, gender, transgender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, ability and disability.” Additionally, SPEAK Des Plaines and Buffalo Grove Pride planned to organize a peaceful protest outside of the Des Plaines Theatre on the evening of the Awake Illinois event.
A resident of Des Plaines stated, “this is not a free speech issue. Nobody is arguing that this group doesn’t have a right to exist or assemble, as much as we dislike the hate and misinformation that they are spreading. But we are stakeholders in this taxpayer-funded theater and have a right to peacefully object when the theater is used in a way that harms our community. The panel has ties to hate groups and we do not want our city to condone this type of rhetoric. It is baffling to me that so many of my neighbors want to roll out the red carpet for them while accusing the people who don’t want them here of being the hateful ones.”
Awake Illinois is not just a local conservative group. Under the guise of “protecting children,” Awake Illinois uses extremist, harsh, and offensive language to push a transphobic, anti-science agenda, while promoting the stalking and harassment of those with opposing viewpoints.
Awake Illinois has a history of associating with hate groups and members have targeted threats against local businesses, school boards, and libraries. These attacks have included infiltrating school board meetings to dominate discussions about sex education curriculum, mailing bullets to the Downers Grove Library to threaten a planned story time drag show; and threats, harassment, and vandalism targeting a local bakery for a planned family-friendly drag bingo event.
On Thursday, January 19, Des Plaines Theatre operator Ron Onesti published a press release on Facebook canceling the Awake Illinois event claiming he received threats as a result of the booking. SPEAK Des Plaines and Buffalo Grove Pride both do not condone harassment of any kind and encourage a full investigation of these threats against the theater. Onesti also wrote “I firmly believe in the First Amendment right to free speech,” and “homophobia is a disease of which I have not been afflicted.”
When asked by the Windy City Times, Carolyn Pinta of the Pinta Pride Project and Buffalo Grove Pride stated “while I am happy to see the event canceled, I was struck by Ron Onesti’s being accused of being anti-LGBTQ as making him ‘sick to his stomach.’ Honestly, if this were the case, he would have acted immediately upon finding out earlier this week that groups like Awake Illinois are hate groups. I very much hope that he will put a more rigorous vetting plan in place for who is able to rent the theater in the future.”
Trans rights are human rights. SPEAK Des Plaines will continue to advocate for human rights and listen to the lived experiences of people while Supporting Positive Efforts of Action and Knowledge.
Read local news coverage:
- Illinois Eagle: Awake Illinois to host anti-trans panel in Des Plaines (published January 16, 2023)
- Journal & Topics: Upcoming ‘Coalition For Kids’ Event At Des Plaines Theatre Sparks Outcry At City Council Meeting (published January 17, 2023)
- Illinois Eagle: Counterprotest planned for Awake Illinois panel (published January 17, 2023)
- Illinois Eagle: Awake Illinois event in Des Plaines cancelled (published January 19, 2023)
- Windy City Times: Des Plaines Theater cancels anti-LGBTQ hate group event after outcry from citizens (published January 20, 2023)
- Chicago Tribune: Awake Illinois event canceled at Des Plaines Theatre amid opposition from LGBTQ+ advocates (published January 20, 2023)