Drag the conductors of the hour of the story, under attack, give him the heels

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Protesters pray outside a library in New York City as Flame, a drag queen who sports a flamboyant wig and red dress, entertains children inside by singing ABC, conducting a coloring activity and reading books about how it’s okay to be different.

Outside Chicago, protesters harass parents who attend stories with their children and proclaim that the staff running the event are “from the devil.”

And in a suburb of San Francisco, men invade the reading of Panda Dulce at the Drag Queen Story Hour in a library, shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs.

After focusing on athletes and transgender youth, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is now targeting drag stories – conceived as a way to educate and entertain children by appealing to their imaginations – with disruptions and other protests reported across the country in the past two weeks since the start of Pride Month.

The organizers of the history hours say social media accounts are fueling the backlash and that naysayers who claim they want to protect children are actually scaring and endangering them. Organizers said they will improve security but will not disrupt their schedules.

Reading groups were rejected 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 a queer person in general, we have always experienced hatred, insults, homophobia and transphobia. Unfortunately it’s only part of our existence, “Hamilt said.” All of this feels different and very real, and it feels a little scarier. “

Drag Queen Story Hour, a non-profit organization, was founded in San Francisco in 2015 by activist and author Michelle Tea. The chapters have since opened in the United States and elsewhere. Other organizations with disguised readers have also formed.

As part of the Drag Queen Story Hour programming, drag queens read to children and their parents in libraries, bookstores, fairs, parks and other public spaces to celebrate reading “through the fascinating art of drag.”

When the San Lorenzo Library, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco, held its first Drag Queen Story Hour four years ago, people prayed across the street in protest. Alameda County Librarian Cindy Chadwick said.

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Last weekend, when the library hosted its second such event, at least five men – one of them wearing a T-shirt displaying a shotgun and the words “Kill Your Local Pedophile” – walked in and started hurling insults. to Panda Dulce as he read to children and their parents, Chadwick said.

“The horrible irony is that they said over and over again: ‘We are here to protect the children.’ And it was the children that they were terrorizing. The children were afraid of them and the children were there with their parents who had 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 incident is being investigated as a hate crime.

The Alameda County Library, which continues to receive threats, now plans to host a Pride event every month for the rest of the year, Chadwick said, and the sheriff’s office will provide security.

The event in the library was mentioned on a right-wing Twitter account that, along with other social media accounts, framed drag queens as “abusive and depraved groomers,” Chadwick said. The same account shared a promotion for a “Kiddie Korner” at a Pride event in Waukegan, Illinois, which was to include a dragon storyteller and a costume basket.

The result was dozens of angry calls and messages, said Nikki Michele, executive director of the nonprofit LGBTQ + Center Lake County, which ran the event.

“Many, you are a groomer, stop stroking children, groomer, groomer, groomer, you are a pedophile,” said Michele.

The event was interrupted by protesters who tried to film the children and yelled at their parents, Michele said.

In Mahwah, New Jersey, a flyer circulated online and left at apartment building doors and lobbies misrepresented a dragster artist as a “notorious PORNOGRAPHER” who “normalizes CHILD ABUSE AND CHILD ABUSE.”

Detractors called local government offices and the Mahwah Pride Coalition in an attempt to shut down its narrative event, said Susan Steinberg, director of the nonprofit. But Angel Lauriano, who performs disguised as Honey Marie, resisted the protesters and showed up anyway on Monday – in long sleeves – to talk to the kids about cats, dogs and their dreams in life.

The protest campaign, as expected, is making some parents think about taking their children to a space where they could be harassed. But Michele said it’s important to be visible.

“It would be a bad show of faith if my children weren’t even there,” said Michele. “But I mean, he scared me enough that I had that conversation with myself.”

Framing LGBTQ people as children in danger is based on the same playbook used by anti-gay crusaders in the 1970s, said Don Haider-Markel, a political science professor at the University of Kansas.

“The term they used at the time was recruiting,” Haider-Markel said. “Now they just passed it to the groomers. It’s old wine in a new bottle ».

It’s a strategy conservative candidates are using to motivate white evangelical Christians to vote, according to Randall Balmer, an American religious historian at Dartmouth College.

“Drag queen story hour plays precisely on their fears of children being misled by evil, satanic or alien ideas,” Balmer said.

Several politicians have discussed plans for legislation to ban drag shows for children or punish parents for bringing 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 children and let them do it as they get closer to being adults,” she said in an interview.

While many drag queens are known for risque and profane acts in nightclubs, Lauriano and others who read to children adapt these performances to be kid-friendly.

“People automatically assume why we drag ourselves along, want to become women, or want to be sexualized,” she said. “It’s a way to make people feel happy. It is for entertaining. It’s to make people smile “.

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Swenson reported from New York City.