Despite plans for ‘nationwide’ movement, anti-drag queen protest draws scant support

Facing off with protestors, Crown Heights families turned out in crowds to support a library story hour.

June 27, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
A crowd of parents bringing their children to Drag Queen Story Hour at a Crown Heights library faced a small group of protestors in the second (and smaller) demonstration against the event.

The Brooklyn Public Library’s Drag Queen Story Hour program drew just a few protesters and a mass of colorfully clad counter-protesters ahead of its Crown Heights installment Thursday morning.

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 opposition, organized by the same group that led a boisterous protest in Gerritsen Beach earlier this month, was made up of just five people — none of them from Crown Heights, but all of them vocal against what they call the “indoctrination” of children.

“We’re here to prevent New York City from using taxpayer money to put on a drag queen story hour,” one of the protest’s organizers, Rick Knight, told the Brooklyn Eagle outside the Crown Heights Library on New York Avenue.

“There’s two genders,” he said. “A male or female, I can give a description — I can pick them out of a lineup. I can’t pick out any other gender, or any other pronoun.”

A handful of protestors turned up outside the library's door just before the event. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick
A handful of protestors turned up outside the library’s door just before the event. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

Knight, a YouTube vlogger who has identified himself as a lifelong friend of the Sheepshead Bay resident who organized the Gerritsen Beach protest, said that, this time, he took the lead — and he plans on “going national.”

For a while Thursday morning, however, that Sheepshead Bay resident — who identifies himself just as “Tag” — was the lone protester with a megaphone. His remarks were buffed by counter-protesters, who alternated between chants and group sing-alongs of songs like The Wizard of Oz’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Annie’s “Tomorrow,” and Cher’s “Do You Believe in Life After Love.”

Knight’s group of five was outnumbered by at least 30 supporters of the program (the Gerritsen Beach event saw over 50 counter-protesters, and close to 40 opponents). Police kept crowds to different sides of the library’s entrance, where BPL Chief Librarian Nick Higgins was acting as a bouncer, holding the door for parents and children making their way inside to the story hour.

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“Really, these protesters are just trying to shame kids — imagine the damage that can cause,” Higgins told the Eagle. “We just have to keep assembling as a community to show them support in doing what they want to do and, really, just wrap our whole arms around them.”

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

Many of the children outside the library were active in the couter-protest, with painted signs and chants of "Haters go home." Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick
Many of the children outside the library were active in the couter-protest, with painted signs and chants of “Haters go home.” Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

Crown Heights resident Kevin Towler echoed Higgins.

“We’re here to quiet the voices of hate. We want to minimize the voice spreading lies about the LGBTQ+ community and its relationship with children,” he said. “When kids come out as trans and they’re not supported, they kill themselves — that’s what happens.”

A young boy standing next to Towler chimed in, referencing the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

Many in favor of the story hour have noted a sense of common misconception surrounding the event — and the definition of a drag queen, which is not the same as transgender or gay.

Drag Queen Harmonica Sunbeam at the start of the story hour. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick
Drag Queen Harmonica Sunbeam at the start of the story hour. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

Marine Park mother Dari Litchman, who organized Facebook events for both counter-protests, and whose 11-year-old daughter attended both story hours, said it’s “all conditional” to opponents of the program.

“It’s all conditional in their world. We will love you, but only if you’re not gay — or queer or trans or bi,” she said.

Inside the branch, a drag queen named Harmonica Sunbeam read books like “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” by Mo Willems and sang the ABCs with a standing room only crowd of kids, parents and library personnel.

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.

Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, who represents the area of Crown Heights where the library is located, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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