By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]
Outside of the Long Island City branch of the Queens Public Library, two antagonistic groups gathered during a drag story hour event on June 26 – one opposing the reading and the other standing in solidarity.
Right-wing groups have taken issue with Drag Story Hours across the country in what has become a battle over gender and sex education in the name of safeguarding kids. In late February, a drag story hour at the Jackson Heights library drew a large turnout – with supporters greatly outnumbering protestors.
The organizers of the “Defend Drag Story Hour” event called on supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community to bring signs, rainbow swag and noisemakers to the library on 21st street, an hour ahead of the reading scheduled for noon. The day before, organizers spread word of the defense and handed out fliers during the city’s annual Pride parade which drew over two million attendees despite rainy weather.
“I feel like when there’s an opportunity to protect our civil rights, queer rights, or human rights it’s critical to show up, regardless of our affiliation,” said Lasara, who wanted to withhold her last name.
She visited from California with her daughter for Pride festivities and heard about the defense at the parade. “I do identify as a queer person. So that’s part of my motivation,” she said. “But also, even if it weren’t my issue, I would still be out here because our basic rights are at risk.”
One retired couple, Mary and Dan Holzman-Tweed have lived in the LIC area for over two decades and arrived at the library clad in shirts expressing support for the scheduled Drag Story Reading organized for Pride Month.
Holding a rainbow umbrella, with a shirt that read “Protect Trans Lives,” Dan said that reading held for children too young to attend school is “is a silly thing to have to defend.” Mary’s shirt read “Defend Your Local Library” with a black cat guarding an open book.
“It’s been happening all over the country, it was only a matter of time before it happened here,” said Dan. “I don’t think the culture has been moving backwards in terms of LGBT rights, I think we’ve been moving steadily forward. We’re just resisting right now.”
The 45 minute reading was scheduled to take place at noon, but just before 11 a.m. advocates for the event were waiting outside for the opposition group to arrive. The group, bearing signs claiming that the reading is inappropriate for children, arrived shortly after.
Protestors stayed for more than two hours, and during that time only a few parents arrived with children in tow – in strollers or in their arms. It was not clear if they came for the scheduled event, or just to visit the library. No other events were scheduled for that day, according to their website.
“There’s a group of us who try to show up whenever we can to support the storytellers and to support the families and to sort of shield them from the bigots,” said Jamie Bauer, 64, who traveled from the West Village. “There’s nothing sexual about it. And they’ve turned it into, you know, this horror story evil thing, when it’s really darling.”
Close to a dozen NYPD officers were at the site to set up barricades which corralled the two separate groups – both approximately equal in size with a dozen people on each side.
“Where do you want the bigots to go,” shouted one supporter of the event as police were sectioning off two areas to keep protestors on either side of the library’s entrance.
“Kids are smarter than we think,” said Chris Austin, an LIC resident who was walking by the gathering and said that both groups were appearing to “out noise” each other.
While both groups brought speakers with them, the NYPD discouraged them from using them to not disrupt the library’s event. Instead, the supporting group sang children’s songs like the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the “ABCs” to drown out the opposition’s chants. The right-wing group held signs that said “this is not okay” above pictures of drag queens and “save the kids” among others.
One opposition protester, with his face covered to disguise his identity, held a poster that read “Julie Lost G.o.d Won” and said that he believed the City Councilwoman Julie Won, who represents LIC, lost the election. Julie Won has previously expressed support for Drag Story Hours in her district. With chalk he wrote out, “RIP Drag Story Hour” along with “Not My Tax Dollars” on the sidewalk.
“I want them to feel welcome, safe and happy,” said Mary on how she wants the parents bringing their children to the drag story reading to feel. “This is my library. You cannot come to my home and make people feel unsafe because of who they are and how they choose to express themselves.”
“If they choose to view someone in fancy dress, reading children’s books to small children through a sexual filter, that’s on them,” said Mary.