Over the weekend, WinkWink, an adult boutique in Bellingham, Washington, was vandalized: Surveillance footage showed a group of four people throwing rocks through the shop’s windows at approximately 3 a.m. Local authorities have few suspects so far, but Jenn Mason, the owner of WinkWink, told Jezebel that she’s certain the shattered windows are related to a recent rise in threats from the far-right against the shop—and the sexual education it offers young people in the community.
Mason said she won’t be deterred.
On Wednesday, WinkWink moved forward with hosting its Uncringe Academy, an “inclusive” sex education workshop advertised for tweens and teens of all genders and identities. The classes are separated by age group, with ages 9-12 and ages 13-18 receiving different lessons about things like consent and communication, the science of puberty, and safer sex practices. This week, the classes were moved to an undisclosed location due to the onslaught of threats and anticipation of further violent protest.
“Sex education is critical for young people to have healthy lives and to be safe,” Mason told Jezebel via phone interview. “For me, even with this small yet threatening group of people who are harassing us, we are committed to doing what’s right. I’m committed to showing up and teaching what needs to be taught and being a resource for families. I know that these far-right folks want us to feel so intimidated that we stop, but I don’t negotiate with bullies.”
WinkWink, which has been closed since the vandalism, first attracted the ire of right-wing activists when Fox News wrote about an event it held in June, a Queer Youth Open Mic Night for kids ages 0-18. Naturally, like scores of sex ed programs and drag queen story hours across the nation, the shop was then featured on Tucker Carlson Tonight. Carlson specifically criticized Mason, given that she’s also an elected member of the Bellingham school board.
“I don’t understand,” Carlson said during his July 5 program. “You talk to my 9-year-old in graphic ways about sex in a public park, I punch you in the face and call the cops. If you do it in a school, I have to pay your salary and shut up?”
According to Mason, the mention was only the beginning of mostly hostile national attention.
“We have been dealing with relentless threats and harassment for weeks,” said Mason. “We’ve basically spent the whole summer fielding people from all across the country who have reached out to us and been abusive with our staff, and who have sent threatening emails, voicemails, and letters to us.”
The night before Mason spoke with Jezebel, she said she received an email from someone posing as a parent asking about the location of Wednesday’s workshops who turned out to be affiliated with violent Neo-Nazi groups.
“It was actually pretty well-crafted. It nearly caught me, but I cross-referenced it,” Mason said. “He’s not on the list. And for some reason, he used his real name.”
Mason, who described herself as “angry” and “defiant” in response to the vandalism, told Jezebel that not only has the shop been forced to institute additional security measures, but because she’s been made to be a public figure against her will, she’s chosen to attend the classes in partial disguise.
But even as the investigation into the shop’s broken windows continues on, so does WinkWink’s education, thanks, in part, to encouragement from local parents who sign their children up for the workshops.
“There are folks from outside of our community, largely, who are trying to take away this education parents want for their kids,” said Mason. “The class sold out. We had to add extra dates. So, we know that this is something that families want. We haven’t had a single family drop out of the class since the media attention or the vandalism.”