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Anna Bran Leis is determined to not let what’s transpired over the past week change how she runs her business. Starting on Dec. 12, Taqueria del Barrio in Petworth began receiving a barrage of up to 30 aggressive, homophobic calls per day. On Tuesday the 17th she had no choice but to bring in the police when she says the calls escalated to include threats of burning down the restaurant and killing staff members.
Bran Leis’ 20-year-old daughter, who is home from college, answered one of the calls. “I hear her yelling,” Bran Leis recalls. “He told her they were going to burn down the restaurant. She hung up on him. When she dialed back, an answering machine picked up. She recorded it.”
City Paper obtained the audio.
“Check out the Loyal White Knights or punch in KKK into your search engine for the Klan’s fight for white supremacy,” a male voice says. Then he goes on to provide dial-in information for some sort of conference call on Monday. Then the caller signs off with, “If you’re white and proud, join the crowd for white power.”
The Loyal White Knights is one of the largest and most active Klan groups in the U.S. They’re known for participating in rallies and distributing racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, homophobic, and Islamophobic propaganda.
The Post originally reported that MPD took down the numbers and recordings of the calls and posted an officer at the restaurant until closing time on the 17th. Bran Leis says she has been pleased with their response, especially from MPD’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Liaison Unit.
Bran Leis, a cancer survivor, at first wondered if the calls began because Taqueria del Barrio hosts events featuring drag performers including drag brunch and drag trivia. But now she’s questioning if they’re targeting the restaurant because she’s a person of color. “I don’t think they hate us because we have all the drag queens,” she says. “I think they hate us because of me. Or some lovely combination of the two.”
“To have something like this happen, it’s like someone kicked me in the stomach,” Bran Leis continues. “It didn’t happen to other business owners on the block.”
While there haven’t been any more calls since the police got involved on the 17th, the hate-filled week has affected employees of the neighborhood gathering place at at 821 Upshur St. NW, a spot popular with families and people of all stripes.
“I have one woman who’s a lesbian and she has kids,” Bran Leis explains. The woman requested some time off work because she didn’t feel comfortable coming in, according to Bran Leis. “I don’t ever want them to feel like work isn’t a safe place when I pride myself on it being a safe, inclusive place. This is my family. I spend as much time with them as I do my own kids.”
Bran Leis says she hopes the neighborhood stands behind her as she tries to move forward. “We’d never let something like this change our view of what we do and how we do it and what kind of business I run and who works for me,” she says. Drag events will continue as scheduled. “We’re not going to be bullied by any of this stuff.”
“As a queer person of color, and as an alternative-style drag queen, places where I can feel safe and appreciated are truly special,” says Anderson Wells (AKA Vagenesis). “I have been hosting brunches, trivia, and other special events at Taqueria Del Barrio since November last year. Anna and I have worked together to curate a lot of the drag programming that has happened here within that time. She has given me a place where I can not only express myself and my art, but also bring other queer artists in to do the same.”
Petworth neighbors are organizing a support rally for 3 p.m. Saturday the 21st in front of Taqueria del Barrio on Upshur Street NW.