Gerritsen Beach

Protesters clash over Drag Queen Story Hour in Gerritsen Beach

June 6, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Supporters and opponents of the Gerritsen Beach Library’s premier Drag Queen Story Hour clashed Thursday as performer Angel Elektra read to children inside.

Drag Queen Story Hour, a worldwide program that invites drag queens to read to kids and teens at libraries, schools, museums and other community spaces, aims to give “glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models,” according to the program’s website.

As the Gerritsen Avenue branch of the Brooklyn Public Library began advertising its first local installment of the story hour, outraged neighbors started pushing a flyer of their own.

The leaflet – seen scattered throughout Gerritsen Beach as well as posted to various neighborhood Facebook groups – called for protesters to convene at the branch one hour prior to Thursday’s event, through to its scheduled end at 3 p.m.

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The protest flyer. Image via Facebook

Objectors argued that the “tax-payer funded attack on our babies” aimed to “groom children into the transgender lifestyle.”

As news of the rally spread a counter-protest was formed.

Anti-DQSH organizer Tag – a local father who spoke to the Brooklyn Eagle prior to the event but declined to give his last name (and did so again at the event) – maintained that his main complaint was not with about the performer, or “with gay people,” but rather with the event’s programming.

“It’s one thing for a drag queen to come in costume and read kids a story. It’s another thing for them to read stories about gender fluidity,” he said prior to the protest. “It’s not about teaching kids tolerance – which the parents should be doing anyway. It’s about the indoctrination of these children. Just like we’re telling them there’s a tooth fairy and there’s a Santa Claus, we’re telling them they can be what they’re not.”

Early Thursday, he said it all boils down to personal preference.

“They feel that this is something against them, and it’s not,” he told the Eagle at the event, referencing supporters. “I just don’t want my children around this guy. You have to hate these children if you want to encourage this sort of mental disorder.”

Police separated the protesters on either side of the library doorway. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick
Police separated the protesters on either side of the library doorway. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

But, supporters of the event argued that Tag, a Sheepshead Bay resident who touted a megaphone Thursday, shouldn’t be speaking for their neighborhood. “All the haters are from a town over,” said one counter-protester, who alleged that Tag “even tried to crash a property owners’ meeting” Wednesday night to support the rally.

“Gerritsen Beach is generational, so everybody cares about being here,” a friend of that supporter added, “and everybody is included here. We all live here together, so this [backlash] completely surprised me.”

Tag countered that he lives eight blocks away. “This is my library,” he told the Eagle.

“I was really disturbed to see that people in New York City were mobilizing against an event like this,” said Miller, a trans parent in the crowd who has attended a DQSH in the past and whose kid would have been there — if not for a nap. “This is such a great event for kids, and I just hope that as many people show up to say, ‘Look, there are as many of us as there are of them.’”

That there were – and then some.

More than 50 supporters of the story hour – most from Gerritsen, but many from other southern Brooklyn neighborhoods like Marine Park and Bay Ridge, and all clad in colors – ascended on the Gerritsen Avenue branch to show support for the program. Police kept them to the right of the library’s entrance, while close to 40 opponents – consisting of residents (and churches) from as near as Gerritsen to as far as Gravesend and Bedford-Stuyvesant – gathered to its left.

One side played church hymns from a loudspeaker, the other played Lady Gaga and Ke$ha from phones.

Supporters of the event blasted music by Ke$ha outside the library. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick
Supporters of the event blasted music by Ke$ha outside the library. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

Maya Murad, a Bay Ridge resident who helped organize a “support bus” to get counter-protesters to Gerritsen, went toe-to-toe with supporters. For her, it was personal.

“I brought my son [to America] from somewhere where I wasn’t allowed to be gay,” she told the Eagle, “and how quickly he accepted that I’m gay, and loved my former partner, too.”

She hopes other kids will continue to be taught that same tolerance.

It was all hands on deck for the Brooklyn Public Library, which doubled down on its support of the program. BPL Chief Librarian Nick Higgins was present for the protests, as was BPL spokesperson Fritzi Bodenheimer.

“I think that the turnout for the Drag Queen Story Hour is fantastic, and you see this all over Brooklyn,” Higgins told the Eagle. “People are excited. Children and their families want to have a space where they can let loose, they can look at all the bright colors and costumes and feel like they’re part of a community that accepts who they are.”

Higgins added that the anti-DQSH protest goes against everything BPL stands for.

“At our heart’s core, we believe in inclusivity and diversity,” he said, “and we understand that we’re a space that has books and programs and resources here that reflect the broad spectrum of human experience and expression and, frankly, not everyone is gonna like it — but we also offer people the freedom to choose what they want to do and not do within library spaces.”

Angel Elektra, the rainbow sequin-clad drag queen that headlined Gerritsen’s first installment of the program, agreed that it all comes down to love, acceptance and tolerance.

, said Angel Elektra. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick
“These kids might feel different and they might not know how to express that because of the people outside,” said Angel Elektra. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

“My goal is to just make sure that [kids] have a safe space to express themselves and be who they want to be,” Elektra said. “I’m not here to gender your child, or tell your child they’re gay, lesbian or transgender — by the way, my pronouns are he/him. When I’m in drag, it’s she/her. But I’m a gay man married legally to my husband. That’s what this is all about.”

“People don’t seem to realize that we’re celebrating 50 years of world pride. We’re celebrating 50 years of something that means so much to so many people, like myself,” she said. “People are killed for being who they are. These kids might feel different and they might not know how to express that because of the people outside.”

Her goal, she said, is to be a role model she wished she had growing up.

As Elektra read books like “It’s Okay to be Different” by Todd Parr and sang songs like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to a standing room-only crowd of kids and parents, opponents and supporters continued to butt heads outside the branch.

One woman hid religious literature in the books displayed in the library's Pride Month section. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick
One woman hid religious literature in the books displayed in the library’s Pride Month section. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

Also inside, a woman affiliated with anti-DQSH protesters scattered religious literature about hell and sinning throughout the library’s play area, and hid some more inside books displayed in what appeared to be the branch’s pride month section.

Outside, protester Angel L. Pena, with one of the participating churches, called supporters radical. “This seems like indoctrination,” he said. “The fact that we’re doing this type of reading for children before they can even read, write or do math is absurd and it shows just how radical this movement is.

“Sexuality is something that’s taught in the house. Religion is something that’s taught in the house,” he continued. A fellow opponent, who said her entire family lives around the corner, called Pena a “good guy,” and echoed his sentiments.

“I don’t want my grandkids being exposed to this,” she said.

There were no shortage of families on the other side of the doorway, however. Supporters applauded parents and kids who came and went through the library doors before and after Elektra’s appearance.

“This was so important for my daughter to see,” said Marine Park mother Dari Litchman, who organized the counter-protest’s Facebook event, and whose 11-year-old daughter attended the story hour. “When I heard there were people who were against it, I knew I needed to be there to support it. I couldn’t let Angel Elektra be intimidated by hateful rhetoric.

“I have seen and heard so much hate speech, mostly on social media, around this area of Brooklyn,” she went on. “It is tolerated and permitted on some local groups. I will always show up to fight against that.”

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