Awake Illinois event in Des Plaines cancelled

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A panel discussion by anti-LGBTQ group Awake Illinois was cancelled by the Des Plaines Theatre on Thursday night.

Ron Onesti, CEO of Des Plaines Theatre operator Onesti Entertainment, announced the cancellation in a press release posted on the Des Plaines Theatre Facebook page.

Awake was planning to host a “Coalition for Kids” panel at the Des Plaines Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 8.

The event was co-sponsored by a list of right-wing organizations including the Log Cabin Republicans of Chicago, Turning Point USA, No Left Turn in Education and others. Awake and the organizations have been very active in protesting LGBTQ events throughout the Chicago suburbs over the past year. At least two of their targets, UpRising Bakery in Lake in the Hills and the Downers Grove Public Library had to cancel events after threats.

In the press release, Onesti said that he had no deep knowledge of the subject matter to be discussed or how controversial it was. He also said he was “sick to [his] stomach” at being accused of supporting anti-LGBTQ events.

“It was never my intention to be political personally, and I wasn’t taking any position with this, for or against,” he said. “I also did not intend to put the City of Des Plaines or any of its Council Members in any compromising situation.”

Onesti also said he had received threats, including bullets being mailed to him, calls and threats of vandalism.

Although the panel discussion was announced less than a week ago, opposition built quickly. BG Pride and SPEAK Des Plaines were planning a counterprotest the day of the event and community members complained at the Des Plaines City Council meeting on Tuesday.

Awake Illinois itself was largely muted. While no announcements had been made on their social media, they did announce the cancellation on their website. The group said it was cancelled because of threats of violence.

Jessica Maag, a Des Plaines resident and part of SPEAK Des Plaines, said the last three days had caused anxiety about the event and the impact it would have on her loved ones. But she also felt hopeful.

“These last few days have shown me what it means to be strong and what it means to have a loving accepting community,” she said. “At the same time that I felt so very fearful, I felt an even greater amount of support from this incredible community who shows up in times of need to remind us that love wins!”

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