Over the weekend, a short video circulated widely on social media of an unidentified person at a New York City march during Pride festivities saying, “We’re coming for your children.”
In the 21-second clip, circulated by a right-wing web streamer channel, dozens of people march in the streets and are clearly heard chanting, “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going shopping.” But one voice that is louder than the crowd — it’s not clear whose, or whether the speaker was a member of the LGBTQ community — is heard saying at least twice, “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re coming for your children.”
To conservative pundits, activists and lawmakers, the video confirmed the allegations they’ve levied in recent years that the LGBTQ community is “grooming” children.
But to Brian Griffin, the original organizer of the NYC Drag March, if that’s the worst they heard, it’s only because he wasn’t there this year.
Griffin said he chanted obscene things in the past, like “Kill, kill, kill, we’re coming to kill the mayor,” and joked about pubic hair and sex toys during marches. People at the Drag March regularly sing “God is a lesbian.”
“It’s all just words,” Griffin said. “It’s all presented to fulfill their worst stereotypes of us.”
The “coming for your children” chant has been used for years at Pride events, according to longtime march attendees and gay rights activists, who said it’s one of many provocative expressions used to regain control of slurs against LGBTQ people. And in this case, they said, right-wing activists are jumping on a single video to weaponize an out-of-context remark to further stigmatize the queer community.
Conservative politicians and pundits have increasingly referred to advocates for LGBTQ rights as “groomers,” associating people who oppose laws that restrict drag performances or classroom discussions of gender identity with pedophiles. The charge is an echo of a decades-old trope anti-gay activists have used to paint the community as a threat to the country’s youths, an allegation that some advocates say endangers LGBTQ people. And the intense reaction to the video has scared some attendees, who insist the quip has been taken out of context.
“It’s really scary to us,” said Fussy Lo Mein, a drag performer and activist who was at this year’s march and declined to give their real name because of safety concerns. “It doesn’t represent everybody — it represents that individual. I thought it was a dumb idea, and I started chanting on top of it with alternate verses.”
The video elicited outrage from right-wing pundits, who called the marchers “demonic” and “evil.” GOP members of Congress tweeted that it showed legislation to outlaw gender-affirming care is warranted, and the Florida Republican Party claimed, “This is what the @FlaDems want in Florida.”
An organizer for this year’s Drag March known as Hucklefaery Ken, who also performs in drag as Sister-Lotti Da, declined an interview request, similarly citing fears for his safety in light of the backlash over the video clip. But he said in an email that the “coming for your children” chant was a “bad joke that is being used to serve the interests of parasitic, predatory political propaganda and policy.”
“We won’t tolerate harm towards any child and advocate for the protection and encouragement of every child to be able to live their true, authentic lives free from fear and persecution,” Hucklefaery Ken said.
The NYC Drag March, which starts in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan and ends at the Stonewall Inn in the West Village, is a smaller and more provocative demonstration that is separate from the larger, televised NYC Pride Parade that took place Sunday.
Griffin, an activist who performs as Harmonie Moore, organized the first NYC Drag March in 1994 in response to organizers of the Stonewall 25 demonstration, who asked people not to show up in drag or leather to make their event more palatable to certain communities. The Drag March is intended to push against the notion that the LGBTQ community needs to assimilate into heterosexual standards and is less serious than other Pride events.
“It’s fun. It’s about performance,” Griffin said.
A leaderless group of activists with the Radical Faeries, a loose-knit LGBTQ collective, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charity and protest group, have helped organize the march in more recent years, according to HuffPost. There are no sponsorships by companies at the Drag March.
“We’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going shopping” is a chant that has long been used by LGBTQ activists. At a 1990 march organized by ACT-UP, a group that demanded more government resources to address the AIDS crisis, protesters chanted it as they walked around a downtown San Francisco shopping mall. The chant was also used by AIDS activists in Chicago demonstrations in the 1990s.
According to multiple Drag March regulars, the “coming for your children” variation has been used before. Last year, Gothamist reported, people at the Drag March chanted, “Ten percent is not enough: Groom! Groom! Groom!”
Karla Jay, the first female chair of New York’s Gay Liberation Front and a professor emerita at Pace University, said it’s a strategy to “take the sting out” of accusations lobbied against the LGBTQ community.
“I grew up in the time where it was considered really bad to be called ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ or anything like that, and what we did is we reclaimed words,” she said. “Think of the Dyke March — these were words that could not be printed.”
Chants at Pride marches, Jay said, are usually meant more for the compatriots in the crowd, not for people watching later on video.
“The person who said this in a march isn’t the person who came up with this idea — the person in the march is saying, ‘Go ahead, call me this; why do I care?’” she continued. “The person is trying to destigmatize this and claim their own power. You can’t blame the victims here, and that’s what the right wing is doing.”
Photos of this year’s march show on social media people with signs reading “Groom Cisies” and “Trans, Your greatest fear, your biggest fantasy.”
“These are the words that they’ve used all our lives to manipulate and control us,” Griffin said, “and we can now own them and see them for the falsehoods that they are.”