Activism

Anti-LGBTQ+ protesters targeted a drag queen at a children’s storytime event in the UK

Performer Aida H Dee said the anti-drag conspiracists' "violent behaviour and bigoted views" were the only threats to the children at Reading Central Library.

Drag queen Reading

Protesters attempted a citizen's arrest on drag queen Aida H Dee. Image: supplied, Drag Story Time UK

Anti-LGBTQ+ protesters who tried to perform a citizen’s arrest on a drag queen during a children’s storytime library event have been condemned for choosing “not to respect parental choice”.

Around 25 people attempted to disrupt a Drag Queen Story Hour event at Reading Central Library on Monday, targeting performer Aida H Dee.

Claiming the event was “illegal”, “child grooming”, and calling police “paedophile protectors”, protesters recorded their actions as they tried to gain entry to the library. It echoes a far-right moral panic in the US, which has seen neo-Nazis turn their focus to children’s reading events.

Sab Samuel, who performs as Dee, had to be escorted out of the event by police and told The Big Issue children inside the event were scared, with one parent crying.

“The protesters’ violent behaviour, bigoted views, and derogatory slurs are the only threats these children faced at this Drag Queen Story Hour,” Samuel said.

“This was the first major protest we’ve had, and I can’t imagine it’s going to be the last. But they disrupted two minutes of it, if that, and you know, the show must go on. The show wants to go on.”

In one video, seen by The Big Issue, a protester gains access by taking in her own child in a pram, and shouts to the room full of children and parents: “Who knows what paedophiles are?”, and: “Every single parent in here should be ashamed of yourself for wokeism”.

“I find it concerning that these parent groups are choosing to sexualise these situations that are not at all sexual. There’s no sexual language during any of these shows,” Samuel said.

“Story hour has received many empty – and I mean empty – threats before. However, we did know this was going to happen.”

The disruption was condemned by Reading Borough Council, which said attendees had called the content “both entertaining and age appropriate”, and that the event was a way to “reflect and celebrate” the diverse community in the town.

The protest, which has been shared in positive terms on Facebook and Telegram, follows a wave of similar incidents in the US. Last week the leader of a neo-Nazi group was arrested in Boston during a protest outside a drag queen story event, while in June five members of the white nationalist “Proud Boys” group stormed an event in a California library and shouted slurs.

Thames Valley Police said no arrests were made at Monday’s protest.

Another video, filmed by an organiser of the protest, shows those present arguing with police by the door to the library and shouting at children and parents.

As parents pass through the door of the library, protesters shout: “You’re taking your children to watch paedophiles. You may think you’re so woke, but this is illegal”

They also tell a police officer guarding the door: “We’re gonna arrest him, we’re going to hand him over to you, you’re going to take him to the police station and charge him.”

The police officer replied that they would be arrested if they manhandled anybody.

Inside, the woman who gained entry to the story time with her child to berate attendees was escorted out by police. She shouted: “No man can be a woman” and then: “We’re here to protect children” as she left the room.

“At the time I was emotionally trying to not cry,” Samuel said. “Some children were scared from what the protesters had done.

“I finished the story, as usual. The tour, despite this protest, is going on as usual.”

Monday was the first date of the Drag Queen Story Hour UK tour, which will visit over 70 libraries over the school holidays. 

Samuel described the events as “literary-focused story-telling shows that involve inclusivity”.

They added: “The stories themselves celebrate different communities and the diversity between them. The performance itself is a celebration of community. They’re very fun and interactive.”

Right-wing media coverage ahead of the tour focused on outrage from “furious parents”, highlighting concerns over the allegedly “sexualised” events.

Ru Paul’s Drag Race star Divina De Campo said the incident had grown from anti-trans rhetoric, and showed “just how awful things are here now for queer people.”

Fellow star Crystal said: “It’s getting worse and they’re getting bolder”.

Reading Borough Council said it was saddened by the events. A spokesperson said: “It is extremely disappointing that a small group attempted to disrupt story time at the library. This was a ticketed event and all parents attending were aware of the nature of the performance. It is regretful that some people chose not to respect parental choice.

“The council does not tolerate threats or abuse against our staff, members of the public or the entertainers we have invited to perform at our venues. We worked closely with the local police and our own security teams to ensure the safety of everyone attending the event.

“Reading is a diverse community and our library service seeks to reflect and celebrate that by hosting and supporting a wide range of artists and audience experiences. 

“Drag Queen Story Hour UK is a well-established professional children’s entertainment provider. The sessions include stories and games and have a theme of accepting differences. We are pleased to say those who attended the performances have given positive feedback saying that the content is both entertaining and age-appropriate.” 

A Thames Valley Police spokesperson said: “Officers monitored a protest outside Reading Library in Abbey Square, Reading, at around 9.30am. 

“No arrests were made.” 

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