Last month, on February 24, about one hundred people gathered outside the Public Library in Jackson Heights, Queens as part of an ongoing campaign to defend Drag Story Hour (DSH) NYC. The organization hosts educational programs at schools, libraries,, and other venues as a way to connect children and teenagers with members of the LGBTQ+ community and encourage them to accept themselves and others from diverse backgrounds.
Thanks to Lucy Herschel and Amy Nagopaleen for their helpful insights for this report.
Report by Reuben Abitol and Haley Pessin
DSH NYC has hosted events featuring drag artists since August 2016, but over the last year, several far-right groups and individuals began to harass and disrupt their events across the city. This mirrors similar homophobic protests around the country and a slew of legislation outlawing drag and targeting trans people. In New York, the core of these groups is Guardians of Divinity (GOD), which has less than a hundred members who hop from borough to borough harassing and sexualizing drag performers and shouting conspiratorial, homophobic rhetoric. At a previous event in Queens, they were joined by Proud Boys, who NYPD officers allowed to ride the subway for free as they traveled to the protest.
In response, members of anti-fascist organizations, mutual-aid activists, and community members put out a petition in solidarity with LGBTQ and gender non-conforming youth in Jackson Heights. They then coordinated with DSH NYC around a call to defend Drag Story Hour, with the goal of building solidarity against far-right intimidation and harassment, as well as allowing children and families to safely keep attending these events.
Defenders poured in during the Jackson Heights story hour, as activists and supporters of DHS and the LGBTQ+ community came together to provide information, show solidarity, and drown out the bigots. Rainbow-clad counter-protesters formed an umbrella barrier outside the event, blocking the view of right-wingers on the sidewalk who attempted to film them from across the street. They successfully drowned out the bigots’ shouts with chants, noise-makers, drums, and a brigade of ukulele players who led the crowd in joyful songs. The defense also drew supporters from NYC for Abortion Rights and autonomous collectives, plus a handful of politicians. Those present in solidarity vastly outnumbered the ten or so hateful demonstrators.
The success of the Jackson Heights defense exemplifies the importance of mass mobilization and organizing for connecting members of the community, keeping our public spaces safe and accessible, and standing in solidarity against the wave of hateful attacks on LGBTQ+ people anywhere the far right shows up.
People joyfully sing together a slight variation of the song “This Little Light of Mine.” Video Credit: Haley Pessin.
Report by Thomas Hummel
On Sunday, March 19, hundreds of protesters showed up once again to defend a Drag Story Hour taking place at the LGBTQ Community Center on 13th Street in lower Manhattan. Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, was in attendance for the two hour read-a-thon. Some 20 to 30 right-wing protesters assembled on the other side of the street, carrying signs varying in content from outright homophobic bigotry to a softer form that hides behind the right-wing lie that these events are about “grooming” and “sexualizing” children, even as its proponents claim to support the greater queer community.
There was a lot of screaming on both sides of the street, with some protesters on the anti-side shouting things like, “Stop encouraging pedophilia!” and “Shame on you! Shame on you!” Counter-protesters mocked them with a melodic “blah, blah, blah” which turned into a chant, and they sang “Family” from the 2006 film Dreamgirls in unison. As the anti-DSH protesters stood on the stairs of an apartment building, one resident even reached out their window with a broom to try to sweep them away.
A handful of members of the fascist street-fighting group, the Proud Boys, also showed up. Unsurprisingly, they were at the center of what little violence occurred during the protest. One of their members was arrested after trying to steal a camera out of someone’s hands, violently pushing five others. The Proud Boys clearly came ready for a fight, as another member was carrying a lock slipped into a sock as a makeshift weapon.
One of the saddest parts was seeing a small number of queer people on the other side of the fence. One held a sign that read, “Let kids be kids!” while others who have fallen further down the right-wing rabbit hole were sporting flags reading “Gays for Trump.” It really made you want to go up to them, shake their shoulders vigorously, and ask, “Don’t you realize everyone surrounding you on that side hates you??”
The organizers of the defense made clear that while they were happy to show up to defend the story hour, they also opposed the attorney general’s presence there. The bottom of their flyer for the defense read, “We keep our queer community safe. Not the cops, not electeds, not the attorney general.”
After the story hour was over, Tempest hosted a panel on fighting the far-right at a library a block away, and a few people from the earlier demonstration I had handed out flyers to were also in attendance.
The balance of forces in NYC remains on our side, but we still need to build the movement so that the far-right protesters are completely shut down when they try to show up in our city. That balance is not in our favor everywhere around the country. We also need to create national connections to support each other’s work against this worsening threat.
Featured image credit: Haley Pessin.
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