After a summer of harassment and a violent act of vandalism, Bellingham business WinkWink Boutique remains resilient in the face of hatred.
Five individuals threw rocks through the storefront windows of WinkWink in the early morning hours of Aug. 6, a culmination of the violent threats that the business had been receiving as a result of Uncringe Academy, the progressive sex-ed courses they offer for youth.
Bellingham artist Kevin Coleman helped turn this violent act into a symbol of hope and resilience by repurposing the ten rocks used to vandalize the business into pieces of art. WinkWink hosted a silent auction for the rock sculptures, entitled “Reclaim the Rocks,” in which 100% of proceeds went towards Whatcom Youth Pride. Whatcom Youth Pride hosts the annual Whatcom Youth Pride Parade and Festival and is an organization dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ youth in the community. The auction raised just under $4,000.
Coleman transformed the rocks by painting them and using his background in wire sculpture to turn them into sea creatures. The finished project included a crab, a seahorse, an octopus and even a giraffe, among others. The auction concluded on Sept. 20, with all 10 rocks having sold.
For Coleman, it was an easy decision to offer his skills to help WinkWink in the wake of the vandalism. Coleman is a long-time supporter and friend of WinkWink owner Jenn Mason.
“I’m a huge advocate for youth pride and for kids to live authentically and be themselves and be able to ask questions,” Coleman said. “I fight for that freedom.”
By reclaiming and repurposing the rocks into pieces of art, Coleman hoped to remove the power from those who inflicted the harm.
“Turning something so negative into a positive is what I’m all about,” Coleman, whose motto is to be a “ripple of positivity,” said.
Mason, who is also a Bellingham School District board member, hasn’t let the harassment deter her.
“We’re really not focused on them,” Mason said, referring to WinkWink’s harassers. “My focus is really on doing what’s best for these kids.”
Mason explained that one of the unintentional effects of the national negative attention WinkWink has received in the past few months is that the Uncringe Academy classes have been fully booked.
Additional dates for the courses will continue to be added, and Mason and the WinkWink team aim to expand the program to serve even more young people.
WinkWink plans to soon offer Uncringe Academy courses for parents, as well.
“We’re not going to stop what we’re doing just because people try to intimidate us,” Mason said.
It’s clear to Mason that there is a strong desire in the community for a more comprehensive sex education option – one that isn’t based on shame or fear, but instead prioritizes topics such as consent, pleasure and healthy relationships.
“The work they’re doing to create comprehensive and inclusive sex education for youth is going to be life-saving,” said Bethany Barrett, Whatcom Youth Pride founding member and Sehome High School assistant principal.
Not only does Uncringe Academy offer a queer-focused approach to sex education, but WinkWink has also been an ardent supporter of queer youth in the community and Whatcom Youth Pride, having previously fundraised for the organization.
The money raised on behalf of Whatcom Youth Pride in the “Reclaim the Rocks” auction will help support future youth pride events and ensure the organization will be able to continue to exist as a resource to queer youth in the community.
Organizations like Whatcom Youth Pride, said Barrett, create a safer and more inclusive community for queer youth to grow up in and can have a long-lasting impact.
“It’s so brilliant,” Barrett said. “Those folks who threw the rocks never would have imagined that what they did would raise money for the population that they were trying to target.”
Nina Walsh (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front. She studies political science and journalism.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.