A local pastor known for preaching that homosexuality is a choice and drag is a perversion, says he was wrongfully targeted by police and arrested during last Saturday’s Drag Queen Story Hour at the South Hill Library. He said he wasn’t there to protest, despite videos and witnesses to the contrary.
Afshin Yaghtin, 47, who runs New Covenant Baptist and is a member of The Church at Planned Parenthood was taken to jail on suspicion of obstructing a police officer. He was quickly released.
Yaghtin said he attended the event merely as an observer interested in learning and talking with people.
“I wasn’t there holding a sign, wearing a political shirt or shouting out any slogans,” Yaghtin said. “I calmly asked the officers to move aside as I was trying to enter the library.”
The story hour, hosted by the Spokane Public Library on Saturday afternoon, became embroiled in controversy in the weeks leading up to the event, when the Facebook group 500 Mom Strong promised to protest. Drag Queen Story Hour is a New York-based nonprofit with chapters across the country.
Soon after, several other groups – both against and in support of the event – promised to attend.
A pair of videos show Yaghtin antagonizing police before he was taken away in handcuffs. One video, which was taken by Yaghtin and uploaded to a YouTube account run by Christian News Network, shows him crossing the protest line hours before the event began and asking officers why they weren’t arresting “a grown man, dressed up as a woman, reading sex stories to children.”
“In my day, when I was a child growing up in the U.S.A … do you know what the police would be doing?” he says to Officer Ben Maplethorpe. “The police here would not be stopping me. They would be arresting them. They would be arresting perverts dressed up as women.”
Sgt. Terry Preuninger, spokesman for the Spokane Police Department, said the 40 officers working security divided the two groups along Perry Street at the Spokane Public Library on the South Hill, with the protestors on the opposite side of the street.
That type of crowd control was important, he said, given that reports showed several members on both sides indicating they planned to bring guns to the event.
“That elevated our presence,” he said. “It’s common practice and you see that in communities across the country.”
Another video captured by an activist and shared with The Spokesman-Review shows Yaghtin and several others approach the officers standing on the corner of the parking lot leading to the library. It appears to show the same series of events Yaghtin captured on his camera.
In Yaghtin’s video, however, it quickly cuts to him being placed into handcuffs. The man recording the new video spliced with Yaghtin’s footage is told by an officer that if he doesn’t comply, he will be arrested as well.
“What’s the charge?” the man says.
“Obstruction,” the unidentified officer responds.
Yaghtin declined to give the identity of the man who recorded the video, saying only he may have been a friend or churchgoer.
Nicolette Ocheltree, who created the “500 Drag Queen Strong” Facebook group, also recorded a video and witnessed Yaghtin being detained. She said he became increasingly more disruptive, insisting he had a right to be closer to the library.
“He was actually arrested on the other side of the building,” she said. “They tried to get him on the other side of the building before they arrested him.”
Yaghtin, who registered the New Covenant Baptist church in October, , is known in the Spokane area for his sermons that focus on passages in the Bible’s Old Testament, along with criticism of people who are gay or transgender, and women having an abortion. Many are posted on his website.
One of Yaghtin’s recent hourlong videos uploaded June 10 and titled “ ‘Drag Queen’ Perversion Hour” opens with a line from Deuteronomy 22:5 – the only verse in the Bible that explicitly mentions men wearing women’s clothing.
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment,” Yaghtin says. “For all that do so are abomination unto the Lord, thy God.”
“There’s no discussion to be had,” he continues. “We don’t care if it’s art or whatever expression.”
Yaghtin would not say whether he planned to protest this weekend’s Drag Queen Story Hour at the downtown library. He also would not confirm how many members attend his church or where the sermons are given.
Andrea Tate, who helped coordinate the event and read to children as a drag queen named Tirrany Hex, said she’s never received as much pushback on dressing in drag in the year and a half she’s done it. Still, the reaction from protestors didn’t surprise her.
What did shock her, she said, was the willingness of some to shout slurs in the presence of 50 or so children as they made their way into the library.
“I’m sure a lot of children are going home and asking what a sodomite is,” she said. “That’s not common language for a 4- or 5-year-old.”