A group of people protesting a “Drag Story Hour” event were outnumbered on Thursday when a larger group in support of the program arrived outside a branch of the Queens Library in Jackson Heights.
Around three dozen rallied against the story time program happening inside the library, where a drag king read stories to children. They held signs that read, “Stop drag queen story hour,” and “Leave our kids alone.” But an even bigger crowd of LGBTQ+ advocates and supporters – more than 200 – stood in front of the library entrance, holding signs that read, “Libraries are for everyone,” “Drag the homophobia away” and “Sashay this way for books.”
Loud chants of “Drag queens are awesome,” and sing-alongs to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” also echoed from the counter-protesters in front of the building.
One of those rallying in support of the story time event was Valkyrie, who only shared her first name out of concern for her safety and commuted from Manhattan to show her support for the event and her community.
“I myself am a queer kid, I came out when I was about 16 or 17. It was hell. It was very difficult,” Valkyrie said. “I don’t think anyone should try to make the world an even worse place for queer children or try to sexualize the existence of queer people, and argue that children must be kept away from knowing that a demographic exists.”
Among those protesting were several members of the Proud Boys, a far-right organization. Members were waving flags with the Proud Boys emblem and drew attention with their presence.
Protests and threats against drag story times have increased in number across the country in recent years. The rally in Queens was less than two weeks after a similar event incited some to trespass inside the home of a Manhattan city councilman who participated in a similar story time program earlier this month
“Our kids should not be involved in adult entertainment at this early age,” said Edwin De La Cruz, who ran unsuccessfully in a special election for the state Assembly to represent Upper Manhattan’s 72nd District earlier this year. “This is not educational. This is about perversion. This is about pedophilia. This is the pedophiles teaching our kids about sex.”
Dozens of NYPD officers worked the protest, directing each side to stay on opposite sides of the street. The groups clashed several times, though the physicality was promptly deescalated each time. One person was arrested, the NYPD said.
Meanwhile, inside the library, the event reached capacity with 70 kids and parents attending, according to organizers. Allison Marino, president of the board of “Drag Story Hour,” said the event went on uninterrupted, with the performing drag king, Oliver H, reading “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “‘Twas the Night Before Pride.”
Frankie Dascola, who works as an executive board member for the city’s program, described “Drag Story Hour” as an arts, culture and literacy organization focused on “elevating youth self awareness.”
“We come in, we encourage people to read and find love in themselves and when we have numbers of individuals who are spewing disinformation and uneducated hate, it’s really discouraging because they’re never in the room with what we’re doing,” Dascola said.
Parents who attended the event described a scene inside that contrasted the chaos on the outside.
“It was very peaceful and loving and joyful,” said Elizabeth Sulskai, a parent who attended the event. “I was happy to see that there way there were way more of us than there were of them, and I’m actually feeling a little inspired to defend more of the libraries that are being attacked across the city now because I think its powerful when there’s a lot of us resisting all of their homophobic rhetoric.”
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams joined with councilmembers Shekar Krishnan, Erik Bottcher and Crystal Hudson on Thursday to issue a statement condemning “vile and dangerous” actions targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“In recent months, anti-LGBTQIA+ protesters have descended on these family events, attempting to get into our libraries to disrupt them while shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs at performers and attendees,” the statement said. “They have also vandalized the homes of three members of this City Council who support Drag Story Hour. It is particularly disturbing that these anti-LGBTQIA+ protesters have focused their harassment in Jackson Heights and Chelsea, two neighborhoods with historical importance as safe communities and centers of organizing for the LGBTQIA+ movement in New York City.”