Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

Sex store owner receives death threats after outraging right-wing media

Share this Post:
Photo courtesy of WinkWink
Photo courtesy of WinkWink

For the last two weeks, Bellingham small business owner Jenn Mason has been deluged with hateful calls, emails, and even death threats. The harassment began when her store became the focus of a right-wing media frenzy about sex education.

Featured on Fox News
On July 5, in a brief segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight, the conservative talk-show host welcomed his "Seattle correspondent," Jason Rantz. Rantz's rant centered on an article he had recently written about a sex education class Mason offers at her all-ages sex shop, WinkWink Boutique.

Mason calls the class the "Un-Cringe Academy" and describes it as "an all-inclusive sex-ed class which offers empowerment and information rather than shame, fear, and judgment." However, on the Tucker Carlson broadcast, Rantz described the curriculum as "what I think most people would consider 'wildly inappropriate content for kids."

Rantz emphasized that the class was open to children as young as nine years old, and he rattled off the "inappropriate" topics that would be discussed, including "gender and sexual identities," "sexual anatomy for pleasure," "what is sex: kinds of solo and partnered sexual activities," and "safer-sex practices for all sexual activities."

The main concern Carlson and Rantz expressed about the "Un-Cringe Academy" curriculum was that Mason not only includes but emphasizes Queer and Trans sex education in her classes, something still rare in public school sex education.

"How does she define sex to these kids?" Rantz asked Carlson hypothetically. "She told me in part, 'sex can be any activity that a person does with themselves and others to be aroused. There's no such thing as 'real sex,' and it's okay if your definition of sex is different from someone else's... I mean, they're very clearly leaning towards the sort of 'woke curriculum,' and if you say anything you're in the wrong, they're in the right."

"Yeah, I hope parents won't put up with it," Carlson said into the camera as the segment ended.

Photos courtesy of WinkWink  

In the bull's eye
While it has only been two weeks since the clip aired, conservatives have already taken Carlson's command to heart.

"Tucker Carlson put us in the bull's eye," Mason said to the SGN. "We've had responses on both ends of the spectrum. We have a ton of support here locally, and we've also had people reaching out to us across the U.S. who said they wish they would have had this kind of education when they were young and that they appreciate what we're doing. But we've also been, unfortunately, overwhelmed with harassment, threats, really vulgar, violent messages, and emails sent to us. While we have a lot of support, unfortunately, there's been a lot of fear that's been built up by a lot of folks."

While the shop is receiving negative backlash and there are safety concerns, Mason says the increased publicity has not hurt the store's revenue.

"There was a protest planned last week and a counter-protest in response to it. The protesters didn't end up showing up, but the counter-protesters did, so we've had a lot more people coming into the store to give their support. That's been lovely, but at the end of the day, we would sacrifice any of the sales that we've made to not have experienced this at all," she said.

The right-wingers' threats have targeted not just the WinkWink store but Mason herself. As part of the hate campaign, Mason's personal information was publicized, a doxxing that has left her scrambling to figure out just how to keep her family safe.

"We have a lot of safety concerns," said Mason "We periodically are using security people, a security person in our shop, we've done some safety planning, and my home address has been shared out on the internet, so I have safety concerns for my whole family. A lot of what we've received is just downright scary. So, we've been making police reports against what I feel like are credible threats, but we're still just doing our thing." The police have yet to apprehend anybody, but Mason continues to make reports.

Most of the threats have come from people online. While it seems the backlash is coming from people across the country who were whipped by the Fox broadcast, Mason is concerned that some of her harassers are likely people in her community. "I know that we have people who don't support what we do here locally. We've had protesters at the shop before, so I do know that some of the folks that are angry with us are here locally," she said.

"I will say that, by and large, based on people's phone numbers and where they say that they're from, most of the threats that we're getting are outside our region, but I'd be naïve to think that all of the threats are coming from outside of here."

Regardless of where the hate is coming from, the messages continue to scare Mason, her employees, and her family members, who have also been mentioned in some of the comments.

"I've had a couple of threats that have mentioned my actual address to me and said they were going to come to kill me and hurt me," she said. "I've had a couple of messages who have mentioned my daughter, who has significant disabilities, and people have mentioned her in emails, so those have been among the worst. I've also had many threats where people have mentioned that they have AK 47s, you know, where they own weapons, and they're coming to get me, so yeah. And a lot more [threats] that are just name-calling."

Customers show their support after the media attention — Photo courtesy of WinkWink  

Senseless sensationalizing
While the traction started after Carlson aired the segment about WinkWink on his show, Mason says the king of conservative media never reached out to her for comment. Rantz, however, was in contact with Mason.

"So, Jason Rantz, a conservative Seattle journalist I guess you'd call him, he was the one who initially wrote the story about these classes, and he's written other stories about us in the past. So, Jason's story came out, and then it was picked up by several news outlets, including on Tucker Carlson's show," Mason explained. "Jason initially contacted us for comment on his story, which I provided. I emailed him back answers to all of his questions, and we went back and forth with some clarifications that he had, and so we have been in communication with him, but not since his article came out."

Rantz has declined to comment or issue a statement about the violent threats Mason has received since the publication of his article.

"One of the frustrating things is [Rantz's] actual article itself was relatively lowkey, I guess," Mason said. "I know he doesn't agree with what we're doing, but he was fairly factual with how he presented our work. Unfortunately, a sensationalized headline was put on that article that easily led people to believe that we were teaching kids how to pleasure themselves and others. That is how it got reported by all the other media that picked it up."

"If you read his initial story, while it wasn't supportive, it wasn't nearly as sensationalized and inaccurate as all of the stories that followed it. That's very frustrating to see the power of headlines and people not really doing research or being convinced of something so strongly that any more research after that doesn't do anything to clear up misconceptions," she continued.

Mason has not reached out to Carlson or Fox News to clear up the misconceptions but has instead spoken with several local news outlets in the meantime. Now she hopes the news will blow over soon and she can continue business as usual.

"This is not our first go-around with national media, and it's always a tough decision between when do you stand up for yourself and say, 'Hey, this is not accurate, and I want to clear that up,' and when do you lie low and let the outrage machine move on. It's hard sometimes to figure out how to not cause more danger and upset," she said.

The recent attacks from the right-wing media are certainly not the first blows WinkWink has faced. A few months ago, in May, the store made Fox News headlines for their Queer Youth Open Mic night, which Rantz also interviewed Mason about.

The store has become so involved in the conservative news cycle that Mason has had to address the headlines on the store's official website. "We put up a page on our website and social media that says, 'Did you come here straight from the news headlines? Here are some facts about Un-Cringe Academy,' so I worked to unspin some of the most common misconceptions people have had around the class. We've also been doing interviews on the radio with our local newspaper to try and get out some more accurate information about what it is that we're doing."

Mason's attempts to rewrite the headlines have worked. "I guess one thing I would say is that during all this, I've had a lot of great conversations with people on all sides of the political spectrum. I've had some people who have reached out to me and said they are conservative and want to know more about the classes. After some genuine dialogue, we have found that our perspectives are not that far apart, that we all want what's the best for kids, and while we might have different ideas of what's best, those conversations have been productive and meaningful," Mason said.

"So, while right-wing media has, I think, been incredibly irresponsible in their reporting, there are conservative folks and people across the political spectrum that do see what we're doing. If they can get past the headlines, they are not opposed to the work we do."

Photo courtesy of WinkWink  

What does WinkWink really do?
WinkWink has been around since 2017 and describes itself as a "woman-owned, identity-inclusive sex shop" that strives to "help our customers better love themselves and others." In its mission statement, WinkWink says it is "sex-positive and gender-affirming" and welcomes people of all genders, expressions, and sexual orientations.

Much of the inclusive language used by the store comes from Mason, who brings to the store a long history of advocating for sex positivity and safety. "I worked for a decade—before I opened WinkWink—with survivors of sexual violence. Working with young people around violence prevention, I felt like we needed more places where sexuality is presented positively. I think our culture is getting better about talking about what we don't want around sex, but we have to do more work about talking about what we do want, so WinkWink is a place where we can help to eradicate violence and help build models of healthy sexuality," she said.

"So, we are an inclusive, women-owned, all-ages, not-creepy sex shop. We are working to banish shame around sex and celebrate sexual expression and exploration. I consider us a mission-based retailer, so yes, we sell products, but we're focused on our mission and education. In addition to our store, we also offer educational classes and coaching services. So, it's more than just a place where people come in to buy things."

Mason defends the store's youth-focused sex education offerings. "The classes are lecture- and discussion-based age-appropriate classes that help kids to learn about relationships, bodies, and sexuality. To help them feel safe and comfortable talking about and advocating for their bodies. We've done sex education before, here in our shop, in private schools, and in community organizations, and had wonderful responses. They're about creating a space where kids can learn and share their thoughts and ask questions they might not feel comfortable asking other places," Mason said.

"We have two age groups; we do a 9-to-12 class and a 13-to-18 class. The curriculum is different for both of those. The 9-to-12 class is sold out already, and our older teen class is almost sold out, but yeah, those are the age groups," she continued.

WinkWink is also very active in the Bellingham community. Aside from providing sex education classes, the store also partners with several LGBTQ+ organizations and charities. "We serve a whole lot of Queer folks at our shop, and we have worked hard to center Queer folks, Trans folks in our store, both in what we sell, how we operate, and the classes that we offer," Mason said.

"We work with all kinds of organizations. I most recently was doing sex education at a teen homeless shelter in the region, you know, volunteering my time to go out and do that. We've partnered with our local domestic violence and rape crisis center, we have partnered with our local drag community, and we are pretty much at or involved somehow with many of our local events. Community outreach and lending our support for organizations is a big part of what we do."

While classes are quickly filling up for the next session, Mason says more will be available on the calendar soon. For those looking to plan a trip up to Bellingham, "The first Friday of every month we have live music, free, live all-ages music in our event space, and people are always welcome to come to that. We always have something fun coming up here!"

For those wanting to support WinkWink but unable to make the trip to Bellingham, the store also sells all its products online and will ship anywhere in the United States. "We are always happy to help people through the online chat or social media to help them find what they are looking for," Mason added.

WinkWink is only the most recent victim of increasingly toxic right-wing media attacks on educational institutions that focus on LGBTQ+ people With no sign of conservative news outlets lightening up anytime soon, Mason has some advice for the next group that finds itself the focus of Fox News. "Let yourself be as upset as you need to be. It's really hard and isolating and frustrating to hear all these things that are said about you, and I don't think anybody can understand just how intense it is to be targeted by the right-wing media unless you've been there. It is so overwhelming and scary," she said.

"The other advice I have is that you have to trust that the outrage machine will move on. This is my third go-around in the national media, and while it feels all-consuming while it's happening, generally speaking, the news moves on after a week or two, and then it's just radio silence afterward. You have to trust that the headlines will change and you will be forgotten about, and that will be your time to recuperate."

WinkWink Boutique is located at 1302 Commercial St. in Bellingham, WA. To shop online or enroll in a class, you can visit https://www.winkwinkboutique.com/pages/about/.