Words by Tori Watson
A Belfast-based drag queen has said children's story-telling events they host are "filled with love," after being subjected to a barrage of social media abuse.
Matthew Cavan, also known as Cherrie Ontop, performed at a drag storytime event during Belfast Pride on Sunday 31 July at the MAC theatre.
He said that since promotional material for the event had been published, he had been subjected to highly offensive online trolling but that the outpouring of support has been "incredible".
Video report by Jordan Moates:
Police said they are treating the online threats as a hate crime and that enquiries are ongoing.
"The job that I do, is one that I love and it's one that I have a massive heart for. The events are filled with love," Matthew told UTV.
"I didn't really use Twitter before this," he added.
"I have been called a groomer, a nonce, a kiddy-fiddler, a paedophile and I've even been told to kill myself," he explained.
On the day of the story-reading event, a small protest took place close to the MAC theatre. A larger counter protest was staged in support of the event.
"What I do is host children's events and the last thing I want is children walking through protests," Matthew added.
While the outpouring of support against the social media abuse has been "incredible", said Matthew, the "negative comments can really stick in the mind".
Police said they were made aware of a planned protest which they monitored, and while "no offences were detected", they "subsequently received a report of a hate incident in the area".
Queerspace NI, Cara-Friend NI, Here NI and the Rainbow Project have issued a joint statement condemning the online abuse aimed at Mr Cavan.
"We call for an immediate end to the harassment of Matthew," it reads.
"We would express our deep concern and anger at the very serious and persistent harassment of Matthew Cavan, following his participation, in drag, at a children's story telling event as part of Belfast Pride.
"We have not seen protests against Mrs Browns' Boys, nor have we seen protests against pantomimes.
"We are disappointed to realise that at least some element of this harassment is based in perceived homophobia."
In a statement, a spokesperson for the MAC theatre said: "The MAC and Young at Art believe passionately that every child should have the opportunity to experience amazing creative experiences to fuel their imagination.
"To that end, we work alongside professional artists, who we know and trust, to provide high quality arts experiences for a broad range of audiences.
"We provide show guidance and information to parents and carers to allow them to make informed decisions when booking."
They added: "We are proud to present Cherrie on Top’s Dragtime Stories as part of our Storytime Sundays series for families."
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