Outside the church, the protesters howled.

Heads high, worshipers walked past the screaming strangers and into the sanctuary of the First United Church of Christ in Northfield.

The church doors closed behind them, cutting off the threats and insults, and they were safe. They were welcome. They were ready for Gospel Drag.

"They shouted such hateful things. Just horrible accusations," said the Rev. Cindy Maddox, the church's senior pastor, who braved weeks of threats and harassment last fall when the church welcomed performers in costumes as bright as their souls. "Once people got past that, within our sanctuary, it was such an amazing experience of joy."

The word gospel means good news. The good news is that over the past year, Minnesota businesses, communities and institutions placed themselves squarely between hate groups and their targets.

The good news, which some vast corporations have yet to learn, is that if you stand up to bullies, you might find an entire community willing to stand with you.

"No matter who you are, who you love, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here," Maddox greeted the people who crowded the pews last autumn.

The Gospel Drag performers sang hymns from "Sister Act," belted out some Whitney Houston and shared stories about their faith. The protesters outside screamed through the whole thing, but nobody in the sanctuary could hear them. All they could hear was joy and music.

A church, a library, a small-town theater and a suburban shop. All hosted drag performances this past year. All were harassed, insulted and threatened.

None of them backed down. None of them stood alone.

A long line of Minnesotans holding Pride flags stretched across the parking lot outside the Little Roos children's boutique in Chaska this July. A rainbow shield between the children inside and a handful of protesters yelling into bullhorns, trying to ruin drag queen storytime.

They called the performers pedophiles; they called supporters groomers; they spun lurid, graphic, salacious fantasies and sent violent images to those who voiced support for the event. The goal of this cruelty is to make it so unpleasant to stand up for a drag performer or a trans kid, that eventually they're left standing alone.

For weeks, strangers tried to harass Little Roos into canceling the event. Shop owner Marissa Held-Nordling held her ground, and her community had her back.

"When people see someone standing up, when they see that kind of positivity, they want to be part of that positivity," she said. "A lot of people have come in to support our business and what we stand for — which is basic human rights."

If you brave the hate groups outside, you get the pure fun of watching a drag king with a glitter beard delight a room full of young readers.

"It was unquestionably the most joyful public program that I've ever experienced in my years in the library," said St. Paul Public Library Director Maureen Hartman. Three city libraries hosted drag story times last September.

"When I think back to that time – which was a scary time and a hard time – what stands out to me so much were our partners who came together to support these artists," Hartman said. Public response to drag story time was overwhelmingly positive, and there will be more stories, glitter and joy in the future.

"We show with our actions that a whole big community is standing with folks who are being targeted," Hartman said.

Two hours west of the Twin Cities, Bethany Lacktorin watched the protesters and counter-protesters outside the community theater she runs in New London, Minn.

The Little Theatre hosted its first drag workshop last year, weathering insults and false claims that the theater was some sort of illicit adult cabaret.

"It's such a small town," said Laktorin, who grew up in New London and returned a few years ago as executive director of the Little Theatre Auditorium. "The protesters and counter-protesters were neighbors. They knew each other. They knew each others' dogs. In moments, they forgot what they were there for and just started small talking."

When Little Theatre staged another drag workshop this spring, not one protester showed up.

These are hard times for LGBTQ youth. Kids hear the things politicians and protesters are saying about them, and it hurts.

"Having even one supportive adult makes a tremendous difference in the mental health and suicide rates of LGBTQ youth, and I have to believe these community events change that experience," said Kat Rohn, executive director of OutFront Minnesota.

Every once in a while, between the hate groups and the hateful comments, they see an adult brave enough to wave a rainbow flag on their behalf.