On Sunday, the King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City closed for the day after it received a bomb threat.

The threat, according to the shop’s owner, was over a drag queen-hosted storytime, making it one of dozens of hate crimes reported in 2023, which is shaping up to be a record year for Utah.

According to data from the Utah Department of Public Safety, there have been more hate crimes directed at the LGBTQ community as of July 2023 than the previous four years combined. Already, reported hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people have hit a five-year high this year.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. And to have targeted hate and targeted violence come into this mission of words and stories? It’s astounding. It’s sad. It’s disappointing. It’s unfortunate that this is becoming normalized,” said Calvin Crosby, who owns King’s English Bookstore.

Consider this:

  • So far in 2023, the Utah Department of Public Safety reported 63 hate crimes against LGBTQ people.
  • In 2022, there were 32 crimes against that same group.
  • In 2021, there were 15 hate crimes.
  • In 2020, there were two hate crimes.
  • In 2019, there were four hate crimes.
The King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City is pictured Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

According to the department, 21 of the 63 hate crimes reported this year were committed in Tooele — 19 were reported in Utah County, nine in Davis County and eight in Salt Lake County.

Most of the hate crimes reported in Utah are property crimes or vandalism, followed by simple assault, larceny and intimidation, according to the department. The data is still preliminary, and the department could make some amendments, but a spokesperson on Monday said there are typically no “major changes.”

The statewide increase aligns with national trends. In the last several years, the FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ people. Drag shows have also become increasingly targeted, and between June 2022 to May 2023 the Institute for Strategic Dialogue recorded 203 incidents of drag events being threatened in the U.S.

Crosby said it was the fifth “threat and/or act of violence” directed at Tara Lipsyncki, a Utah drag queen who was set to perform at the story hour on Sunday.

“This just can’t be accepted as normal. This is not who we are,” Crosby said.

In Utah, most of the hate crimes against LGBTQ people coincided with Pride Month — 57 of the 63 incidents reported fell between the last week of May and the first week of July.

That same month, police around the state reported a string of pride flags being stolen or destroyed. On July 3, Salt Lake City police issued a news release asking for the public’s help after multiple pride flags were burned.

“There’s definitely some correlation with the month of June and Pride Month, where we’re seeing a spike,” said Mandy Biesinger, the field services supervisor for the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification.

Biesinger said the rise could also be a result of an increased focus on reporting crimes. Police are being alerted to things like stolen pride flags, vandalism or homophobic threats at a higher rate, she said.

“The LGBT community has been really good at encouraging people to report,” Biesinger said. “So if I’m flying a pride flag, and that gets stolen, there’s better reporting to law enforcement about that now.”

The Salt Lake City Police Department has not officially labeled the incident at King’s English a hate crime, although several city leaders did on Monday. The bomb threat is still under investigation, and Biesinger says it will likely be filed away as an “intimidation” hate crime.

Crosby never actually saw the threat, but says he and his staff was alerted by Salt Lake police, who knocked on the shop’s door early Sunday telling them they had to evacuate. Later that day, Crosby said police received a second threat. After a K-9 unit swept the building, police gave Crosby and his staff the “all clear” to return, but the shop remained closed.

By Monday, staff at the King’s English were back to work, albeit a little rattled. The incident was condemned by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and the Salt Lake City Council.

“This isn’t the only act of crime or intimidation that has occurred in our community this year, endangering children, families, and residents. From the destruction of Pride flags at homes in the Central Ninth District to the acts of intimidation outside Tea Zaanti’s all-ages drag show, we strongly condemn behavior that threatens the many diverse communities that make Salt Lake the welcoming and thriving city it is,” reads a statement from the council.

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said her administration is looking forward to working with King’s English Bookshop so that it can host the storytime at a later date.

“I cannot say this strongly enough, EVERYONE belongs in Salt Lake City. The actions today to cause fear at (King’s English) around a drag story time event are not welcome here,” Mendenhall posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Crosby, when asked if this was the end of drag story hour at the King’s English Bookshop, responded: “No, we’re not shutting it down.”

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly referred to Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall as the Salt Lake County mayor.

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