Even New York City, the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, is not immune to the surge of anti-drag protests that has swept across the U.S. this year.
This month alone, there have been at least two such protests in the country’s most populous city. The latest occurred Thursday outside a public library in the borough of Queens, where a Drag Story Hour event for children was scheduled. Drag Story Hour is a national program started in 2015 in which drag performers read books to children in libraries, schools and bookstores to celebrate diversity and encourage kids to read, according to the program’s website.
Shekar Krishnan, a New York City Council member who represents parts of the borough, estimated there were 500 protesters, with counterprotesters far outnumbering their anti-drag counterparts.
“We outnumbered the haters (400 to 100) and drowned them out with chanting, drumming, dancing, and ABBA sing-alongs,” Krishnan, who was there to support the Drag Story Hour event, which went on as planned, wrote on Twitter.
The protesters carried signs that said “Leave the Kids Aalone” and “Stop Drag Queen Story Hour,” while counterprotesters carried signs that read “Drive Homophobia Away” and “Libraries Are for Everyone,” according to local news outlets PIX11 and Gothamist.
Videos and photos shared on social media show the protest at times becoming tense, with participants shouting at each other and at police. Some photos show an attendee carrying a Proud Boys flag, and another captured by a photographer for Getty Images shows a protester giving a Nazi salute.
A spokesperson for the New York City Police Department said one person was arrested in connection with Thursday’s protest. The NYPD also received two arson complaints in which an unidentified individual allegedly poured a substance on two unoccupied vehicles and set them on fire, but those cases are still under investigation, the spokesperson said.
Hours before the event, New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams released a joint statement with three council members — Krishnan, Erik Bottcher and Crystal Hudson — stating that the three members had their homes vandalized in connection with their support of recent Drag Story Hour events.
“In recent months, anti-LGBTQIA+ protesters have descended on these family events, attempting to get into our libraries to disrupt them while shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs at performers and attendees,” they said. “The harmful, homophobic, and transphobic extremism targeting Drag Story Hour events and the New Yorkers who support them, including council members, is vile and dangerous.”
In the past year, some conservative elected officials, right-wing media personalities and anti-LGBTQ social media accounts have characterized the program as inappropriate for children, and some have even gone so far as to describe it as sexually “grooming” minors, perpetuating a decades-old attack on LGBTQ people.
Thursday’s incident marks at least the second protest of a Drag Story Hour event in New York City this month. On Dec. 17, protesters gathered outside a branch of the New York Public Library in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood to oppose a Drag Story Hour event that, according to organizers, was created to be more accessible to children with autism and other disabilities.
Councilman Bottcher, who had attended the event, said that his home and office were vandalized two days later. He documented the incidents on social media with photos and videos taken by his staff.
Protesters vandalized the hallway outside Bottcher’s office on Dec. 19, according to police, though no arrests have been made in that incident. Bottcher shared a video that he said shows protesters shouting at his staff.
Later that day, just before 5 p.m., protesters gathered outside Bottcher’s apartment building, police said. Bottcher alleged that someone physically assaulted his neighbor and he shared video of the incident. The NYPD spokesperson said police had arrested and charged David Nieves, 33, of Brooklyn, with assault and harassment in connection with the incident, which happened at 4:50 p.m. Nieves did not immediately return a request for comment.
About 10 minutes later, two women allegedly entered Bottcher’s residence without permission, the NYPD spokesperson said. D’Anna Morgan, 27, of Queens, and Erica Sanchez, 44, of the Bronx were arrested for trespassing and were released as they await court appearances, the spokesperson said. Morgan did not immediately return a request for comment, and Sanchez could not be reached for comment.
Bottcher accused the protesters of also vandalizing the sidewalk outside his apartment building with homophobic messages, including “Erik Bottcher is a pedo child groomer,” echoing rhetoric that has increasingly been used by some Republican elected officials over the past two years.
“This is pure hate, unmasked,” Bottcher said of the messages in front of his residence. “If they think this is going to intimidate us, they’re mistaken. Our resolve is strengthened.”
A representative for Bottcher did not immediately return a request for additional comment.
These New York incidents are among the latest in a nationwide surge of attacks and protests targeting drag performances and events.
Last month, the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD issued a report stating that there had been more than 140 incidents of anti-LGBTQ protests and threats targeting drag events across 47 states in 2022, with Texas, North Carolina and Illinois reporting the most such protests. Some of the protests, the organization found, had been organized by white nationalist groups, including the Proud Boys, who, in some cases, have shown up to Drag Story Hour events armed.
The Crowd Counting Consortium, a public interest and scholarly project that documents crowds and contention in the U.S., found a sharp increase in the number of anti-LGBTQ demonstrations across the U.S. over the past two years, according to a year-end report released Friday.
This month alone, the report states, there were “more than 40 anti-LGBTQ+ protests, four-fifths of them specifically targeting drag shows or drag story hours.”
“That escalation in intimidation and terrorism stems, in part, from violent groups like the Proud Boys shifting their attention to anti-LGBTQ+ issues and actions as right-wing media and influencers increasingly harp on these themes, as watchdogs like Media Matters have documented,” the report found.
But the report also found that, as anti-LGBTQ protests have escalated, so have creative counterprotests. For example, counterprotesters in Provo, Utah, wore large angel wings and stood in front of protesters at a Pride festival to block them from festival-goers.