These Umbrella-Twirling Drag Defenders Are Protecting Libraries from Bigots

On a Tuesday afternoon, police surrounded the Elmhurst, Queens public library with two layers of crowd control barriers. Next came the volunteers, carrying rainbow umbrellas and brightly colored posters. “Library for everyone,” reads a sign.

Then, minutes before family storytelling time began inside the library, rights arrived. Carrying “Don’t step on me” flags and “Green Lives Matter” T-shirts, a dozen or so protesters marched on the sidewalks shouting slogans and obscenities as library patrons dispatched the police. and fences to access a public building, where the next hour, a drag performer Will read books to children.

Pauline Park, a longtime LGBTQ rights organizer based in Queens, watched anti-manipulative protesters, holding a rainbow poster.

She told The Daily Beast: “I know some of them. “The same group of people, about a dozen or so, going from pull the story now to pull the story hour. They have nothing better to do with their time than try to break.

Its LGBTQ Pride Month in the city that started the gay rights movement in America more than 50 years ago. But that liberation movement is still a fight, playing out in state legislatures and at barricades around public libraries as the GOP puts LGBTQ rights first. On one front line of the war are New York City’s trailer defenders, a coalition of volunteers who defend events like trailer storytelling hours against a small but daring group of opponents.

“On the one hand, a few stubborn people, some of them Proud Boys,” Park said of the crowd resisting manipulation. “On the other hand, you have people from all over Queens, both LGBT and non-gay, who are supporting the event.”

A woman holds up a sign saying "We love Drag Queen's Storytime!" and Flame, a drag queen, looks great.

A guardian of Drag Story Hour and Flame, a great drag queen.

Kelly Weill / Handout

Libraries have been hosting drag events since at least 2015 when author and activist Michelle Tea launched Pull Story Hour (now a nonprofit with dozens of branches in the United States and abroad. outside). Kid-friendly events feature performers in colorful costumes and messages about inclusion.

Flame, a New York City-based Pull Story Hour performer, has been attending those storytelling hours for five years. Some of the kids they used to read to are now teenagers, “kids who remember me reading to them ‘when I was a kid,'” Flame told The Daily Beast.

“They remember my name, they remember the stories I read, and they remember the lessons we taught about self-love, creative self-expression, empathy and respect for others regardless of race. , color, sex, orientation or disability. It is very rewarding to watch.”

We will not tolerate people walking up and disrupting a children’s event. It’s like, do you have anything better to do?

But the readings drew growing conservative outrage as Republican politicians revealed a legislative edge against LGBTQ rights — in 2023, lawmakers introduced over 520 anti-LGBTQ billsmany of them target the pull and accessibility of information about LGBTQ issues by minors.

Along with those bills are protests against drag events. A June report by Institute for Strategic Dialogue found anti-pull protests increased in 2023, sometimes escalating into threats, doxxing and property damage to drag performers and towing show venues.

“The first five months of 2023 saw more anti-towing protests, online and offline threats as well as violence (97 total; 19.4 per month average) compared to the last seven months of the year. 2022 (106 cases in total; 15.1 per month average),” the ISD report shows. The report also found that the anti-manipulative protests are being fueled by “not only traditional anti-LGBTQ+ groups, but a growing range of other actors, from local extremists and white supremacists to parental rights activists, members of anti-vaxxer groups, and Christian nationalists.

Lucy, a local parent who organized pro-LGBTQ posters outside the Elmhurst library, told The Daily Beast that the opposition had “definitely become more organized”.

Defenders of the story of the drag queen raised rainbow umbrellas to ward off right-wing protesters.

Rainbow umbrellas during drag queen storytime.

Kelly Weill

“Honestly, I think there are a lot of fringe groups, the far right that are pretty racist, pretty anti-immigrant, pretty sexist, they’re anti-vaxx, they use intimidation and harassment to spread the word. their ideas, and I think a lot of them see transgender rights as a dilemma that they think they can gain traction.”

Over the past year, some regular scissors have formalized techniques for shielding children’s story events. On Tuesday, a long line of pro-LGBTQ activists vibrated colorful noise machines to drown out chants of “groomers” and erected a wall of shielding, rainbow umbrellas the entrance to the library away from the anti-manipulation faction, some of whom were filming with their phones.

Shekar Krishnan, a New York City council member who represents the neighborhood and nearby Jackson Heights, said that in Elmhurst, drag defense is a neighborhood thing. Krishnan pointed to a recent trend of anti-manipulation incidents, particularly in Jackson Heights, which has a long history of LGBTQ activism.

They remember the lessons we teach about self-love, creative self-expression, empathy, and respect for others regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, or disability.

“Protecting drag story hours is an essential, uplifting and necessary part of this work,” Krishnan told The Daily Beast. “When our community shows up all the time, outnumbering the extremists who are there, that’s the definition of community safety, that’s the definition of solidarity to come together.”

Lucy said traction prevention has connected her with other families in her building and compound who want to attend events but are afraid of anti-traction protesters. “Our welcoming, festive presence makes families feel safe in attendance,” she said. “I have received a lot of emails from people in my neighborhood thanking everyone who came to support.”

However, pull defense is not without risk. Lucy has requested that her last name be withheld, citing potential harassment, which advocates of the story entangled have now previously been threatened online as well as at their homes and offices.

Krishnan previously supported story hours in his district, just to be targeted by some of the same protesters at his home. While Krishnan was at home with his children in January, anti-towing protesters gathered outside to shout racist slurs and scribble the word “grooming” on the sidewalk. “It was an extremely offensive and despicable performance,” he said.

His district office was also vandalized, as was the homes of council members Erik Bottcher and Crystal Hudson, who also advocated hours of drag storytelling. Bottcher, a homosexual, was a particular target of anti-manipulative protesters. In December, two regular anti-story employees broke into Bottcher’s building and refused to leave. They pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in March. A leader of their anti-manipulation group, David Nieves, was arrested in December for allegedly breaking into Bottcher’s building and Assaulting a Neighbor.

Nieves was at Tuesday’s towing event in Elmhurst, where he yelled erratically at library staff until police pulled him off a barricade.

Callan Ditmyer, one of the volunteers who had rallied to support the hour of sloppy storytelling, said he’s seen similar outbreaks over the past year—but the defenders’ goals entice is to keep them out of the library.

“We will not tolerate people walking up and disrupting a children’s event,” he said. “Like, do you have something better to do?”

As reported by ISD, Nieves’ group, Guardians of Divinity, emerged from the world of anti-vaccine conspiracy and turned to anti-manipulative activity around September 2022. Since then, the group has “staged it.” 21 anti-manipulative events (average 3 events a month), 16 of which ended in verbal or physical clashes between Divine Guardians and opponents or participants attend the event,” ISD noticed.

Small group, ISD noted. Even its Telegram channel has less than 229 followers and its live events are smaller. About 10 people, some of whom are recognizable members of the group, performed outside the Elmhurst library on Tuesday. Past events include uniformed members of the Proud Boys, another far-right group with a history of violence in the city.

Small and radical, these groups are supporters of the anti-LGBT movement on the ground. But they are connected with more established figures in more conventional conservative practices. MarchNew York Republican Youth Club the Nieves . organization and his fellow protester Anna Morgan, who was confessed the day before disorderly conduct in Bottcher’s building.

Other micro-celebs of the right have also demonstrated outside of New York’s drag story hour. Joining the crowd outside the Elmhurst library on Tuesday was Brandon Straka, a pro-Trump internet personality who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for his actions during the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Straka, unsuccessfully disguised in a Black Lives Matter shirt, attempted to enter the library during storytime, but was refused by staff. Straka told The Daily Beast that he was acquainted with several other anti-manipulative protesters, though he declined to give names — less than after January 6, when he provided information about Stop The Steal activists to the FBI.

For all their fuss outside the library, the anti-pull protesters have consistently outnumbered the drag force defenders, with about three times as many pro-LGBTQ volunteers as there are. protester on Tuesday.

And those numbers only reflect the outside of the library, said Queens activist Park. “These events are often packed, sometimes overwhelming,” she said, recalling a recent hour of drag storytelling in Jackson Heights, “unfortunately, where they had to turn families away. because it’s so popular.”


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