SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Protesters pray outside a library in New York City as Flame, a drag queen wearing a sparkly wig and red dress, entertains children inside by singing the ABCs, leading a coloring activity and reading books about how it’s going to be different.
Outside Chicago, protesters are harassing parents attending story time with their children and claiming that the staff running the event are “from the devil.”
And in a San Francisco suburb, men swarm reading Panda Dulce at a library’s Drag Queen storytime, shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs.
After focusing on athletes and transgender youth, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is now targeting story hours – designed as a way to educate and entertain children by appealing to their imaginations – with interruptions and other protests reported across the country in the past two weeks since Pride Month began.
Story hour organizers say social media accounts are fueling the backlash and naysayers claiming to want to protect children are scaring them and putting them at risk. Organizers said they will step up security but not halt their programs.
Reading groups have been pushed back from the start, but the recent vitriol is new, said Jonathan Hamilt, executive director of Drag Queen Story Hour and co-founder of the New York chapter.
“Being part of the LGBT community and being a queer person in general, we have always been victims of hate, insults, homophobia and transphobia. It is unfortunately part of our existence,” Hamilt said. “It all feels different and very real, and it feels a little scarier.”
Drag Queen Story Hour, a non-profit organization, was started in San Francisco in 2015 by activist and author Michelle Tea. Chapters have since been opened in the United States and elsewhere. Other organizations with drag readers also formed.
As part of Drag Queen Story Hour programming, drag queens read to children and their parents at libraries, bookstores, fairs, parks and other public spaces to celebrate reading “through the glamorous art of drag.”
When the San Lorenzo Library, about 40 miles southeast of San Francisco, held its first Drag Queen Story Hour four years ago, people prayed across the street in protest, said Alameda County Librarian Cindy Chadwick.
Last weekend, as the library held its second such event, at least five men – one of them wearing a T-shirt showing a gun and the words “Kill your local pedophile” – walked in and started swearing at Panda Dulce as she read to children and their parents, Chadwick said.
“The horrible irony of it all was that they kept saying, ‘We’re here to protect children. And it was the children they terrified. The kids were scared of them, and the kids were there with their parents who brought them to this event,” Chadwick said.
A spokesperson for the county sheriff’s office said the men, who identified themselves as members of the Proud Boys, are all Bay Area residents. The episode is being investigated as a hate crime.
The Alameda County Library, which continues to receive threats, now plans to hold a Pride event each month for the rest of the year, Chadwick said, and the sheriff’s office will provide security.
The library event was mentioned on a right-wing Twitter account which, along with other social accounts, portrayed the drag queens as abusive and depraved “healers,” Chadwick said. The same account shared a promotion for a “Kiddie Korner” at a Pride event in Waukegan, Illinois, which was to include a drag storyteller and costume bin.
It resulted in dozens of angry calls and messages, said Nikki Michele, executive director of the LGBTQ+ nonprofit Center Lake County, which organized the event.
“A lot of, you’re a groomer, stop grooming kids, groomer, groomer, groomer, you’re a pedophile,” Michele said.
The event was interrupted by protesters who tried to film children and shouted at their parents, Michele said.
In Mahwah, New Jersey, a flyer circulated online and left on doorsteps and in condominium lobbies misrepresented a drag performer as a “known PORNOGRAPHER” who “normalizes PEDOPHILIA AND CHILD ABUSE”.
Critics called out local government offices and the Mahwah Pride Coalition in an attempt to shut down its history-making event, said nonprofit director Susan Steinberg. But Angel Lauriano, who plays Honey Marie, stood up to the protesters and showed up anyway on Monday – in long sleeves – to talk to kids about cats, dogs and their dreams in life.
The protest campaign – as expected – is giving some parents pause to bring their children into a space where they could be bullied. But Michele said it was important to be visible.
“It would be a bad show of faith if my own kids weren’t even there,” Michele said. “But I mean, it freaked me out enough that I had this conversation with myself.”
Portraying LGBTQ people as endangering children draws on the same playbook that anti-gay crusaders used in the 1970s, said University of Kansas political science professor Don Haider-Markel.
“The term they used at the time was recruiting,” Haider-Markel said. “Now they just passed that to the groomers. It’s old wine in a new bottle.
It’s a strategy conservative candidates use to entice white evangelical Christians to vote, according to Randall Balmer, a historian of American religion at Dartmouth College.
“The drag queen’s story hour plays directly into their fears that children are being misled by evil, satanic, or extraterrestrial ideas,” Balmer said.
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Several politicians have discussed bills to ban drag shows for children or punish parents for taking their children to one. Among them is Texas State Representative Bryan Slaton, a Republican.
“Children don’t need to focus on sex and sexualization, and we need to let them grow up to be kids and let them be as they move closer to adulthood,” he said. said in an interview.
While many drag queens are known for their risque and profane acts in nightclubs, Lauriano and others who read to children adapt these performances to be kid-friendly.
“People automatically assume that because we hang out, we want to become women or we want to be sexualized,” he said. “It’s a way to make people happy. It’s to entertain. It’s to make people smile. »