Crown Heights

Drag Queen Story Hour, and its protesters, head to Crown Heights

"If they won't let up, I don't see why we should."

June 21, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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The Brooklyn Public Library’s Drag Queen Story Hour program is drawing another round of protests and counter-protests ahead of its June 27 event in Crown Heights, with opposition organized by the same group who led a boisterous protest in Gerritsen Beach earlier this month.

The story hour is a worldwide program that invites drag queens to read to kids and teens at libraries, schools, museums and other community spaces to provide children a broader range of non-traditional role models. Protesters say the story time is “openly attacking the innocence” of children, and with their second protest of the event they appear to be mobilizing beyond their neighborhood.

The new flyer. Photo courtesy of Rick Knight
The new flyer. Photo courtesy of Rick Knight

“The problem is that they’re pushing an ideology,” one of the protest’s organizers, Rick Knight, told the Brooklyn Eagle Thursday night. “They argue that it’s a drag thing, not a trans thing, but then they’re preaching gender fluidity.”

Knight, a YouTuber who has identified himself as a lifelong friend of the Sheepshead Bay resident who organized the Gerritsen Beach protest, said that, this time, he’s taking the reins – and he plans on “going national.”

As the Crown Heights Public Library gears up to host the event on June 27, a flyer — nearly identical to one that made the rounds around Gerritsen earlier this month — is starting to crop up in local Facebook groups.

There were more than 50 counter-protesters at the Gerritsen Beach event on June 6. Supporters and opponents clashed outside the branch while the program’s headliner, a purple-wigged performer named Angel Elektra, read stories 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.

One woman hid religious literature in the books displayed in the library's Pride Month section. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick
Inside the Gerritsen Beach branch, one woman hid religious literature in the books displayed in the library’s Pride Month section. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

“There’s a lot of ignorance toward what drag queens are, as well as [what] the LGBTQ community is in the first place,” a Gerritsen Beach resident named Nicole told the Eagle prior to the protest at her local branch. “The premise of the protest is that somehow kids are going to ‘catch the drag.’ It’s ridiculous.”

Drag Queen Story Hour, a nonprofit founded in San Francisco and headquartered in Manhattan, prides itself on offering acceptance-driven literary programming for kids and teens through readings, singalongs and crafts, led — in this case — by librarian-trained drag queens.

“DQSH gives kids glamorous, positive and unabashedly queer role models,” said Jonathan Hamilt, the program’s New York deputy director, prior to the Gerritsen Beach event. “However children feel comfortable expressing themselves, experimenting with how they want to show up in the world and perform themselves, there should be a welcome mat laid at the door of each library.”

Hamilt did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the protest’s second-coming.

Marine Park mother Dari Litchman, who organized the Gerritsen Beach counter-protest’s Facebook event, and whose 11-year-old daughter attended the story hour, said she isn’t shocked by the rally’s revival.

“I’m not at all surprised to see this same group protesting at another library, because they are extreme religious zealots,” she told the Eagle. “They believe their religion makes it okay for them to discriminate against and harass others. Never taking a moment to realize that what they have actually been taught is to hate, not love.”

Litchman is organizing another counter-protest to show support for the Crown Heights event, and created a Facebook event to spread the word.

At least two elected officials have also denounced the actions of the program’s opponents. State Sen. Andrew Gounardes called the words of Gerritsen Beach Library protesters “hate speech,” while City Comptroller Scott Stringer said, in response, that “homophobia” has no place in the city while it celebrates World Pride.

The Brooklyn Public Library said it has no intention of cutting the program.

“Brooklyn Public Library is proud to offer Drag Queen Story Hour at Crown Heights Library and at many other branches,” a spokesperson said. “The program consistently draws large enthusiastic and supportive crowds throughout the borough, and children love the stories and songs.”

Still, Knight contends that “telling kids they can be something they’re not is delusional.”

A protester and counter-protester clash at the Gerritsen Beach Library. Eagle file photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

Knight said that, while he can’t predict the turnout for the second bout, he hopes it mirrors the first one, which he thought “went better than expected.”

“It’s too soon to call it,” he said. “It’s early in the morning and, honestly, people are afraid. Online they’ll say something but coming out and showing your face, it’s a different story.”

When asked if they’d continue protesting Drag Queen Story Hour, Knight said, “that’s a question for the drag queens. If they won’t let up, I don’t see why we should.”

“I’ll be there, too” Litchman said.

The Crown Heights Library is located at 560 New York Ave. The story time is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m.; the protests at 9:30.

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