Canadian Anti-Hate Network
When two family-friendly drag events were held in Ontario towns this weekend, demonstrators organized on social media to protest the event.
With a “drag story time” event taking place in Brockville on Saturday, December 17, and a drag brunch the following day in Welland, Ontario, protesters arrived with signs and chants of “groomers,” insisting they are protecting children from the abuse contained within.
Using both public and private spaces, these events cater to parents and children. Family-oriented drag events are not sexualized affairs, often held at libraries – as in Brockville – and the main grievance is the false equivalence of drag queens and transgender people as pedophiles, and little else.
Drag story time or drag story hour are typically events where a drag performer reads a story to a group of children.
Both Saturday and Sunday saw protesters woefully outnumbered by the counter-protesters who arrived to support the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
“On the day of the event, someone did use bolt cutters to access the roof of the library and set a fire on top of our HVAC system,” Geraldine Slark, CEO of the Brockville Library told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “I believe they did that to activate our sprinkler system with the hopes of it would then destroy the building. We'd have to cancel the event, which I had a backup plan for another location if something happened to the building.
“I was going to go forward.”
A bomb threat was also called into the building after the show had already ended. Slark says the call came from a number in the Greater Toronto Area. No explosive device was found in the building.
The Saturday event in Brockville bills its Drag Storytime as a “unique way to encourage children in learning about inclusion and diversity.” The library also set up an FAQ section on its website to hopefully stem some of the more obvious questions.
“Drag has always fostered a sense of community and brought people together in appreciation of the art form,” the website reads. “The whimsy and creativity of Drag performers resonates with people of all ages and delights children in particular. Attendees of programs like this often cite the tremendous positive impact it has for them to have positive, unabashedly queer representation celebrated at the library.”
Slark adds that those unhappy or uninterested in drag performances are welcome to not attend.
“Ultimately, parents and guardians are responsible for supervising library use by their – and only their – children,” the FAQ continues. “The Library does not allow individuals to decide how the rest of the community uses the Library.”
On Sunday, December 18, the regular “Drag Yourself To Brunch” event took place at The Vegan Hippie Chick, a cafe in Welland.
Similar to the day before, a crowd of protesters gathered near the cafe. Reports place the number around 12 individuals at the peak of the protest. Many were the same individuals as the day before.
Also, like the day before, they were outnumbered by the counter-protest, which was reported numbering over 50 people.
“They don’t get to harm people who are just trying to live their lives and be happy,” Café founder Mandy McCullough told the Toronto Star.
In the country’s west, Calgary, Alberta, saw both a successful counter protest allowing one all-ages drag event to go forward on Sunday, while another chose to cancel due to an influx of threats.
Another event in Peterborough, Ontario was cancelled for the same reason.
Supporting & Defending Drag
The drag story reading and brunch weekend are a few of a small number of similar events taking place across Canada and North America. Becoming sites of conflict as the events are targeted by far-right protesters, a tradition of defence of these events — and the performers and attendees — has long been a feature of queer communities.
In the case of the Brockville event, counter protesters draped themselves in flags, blew bubbles, and played music. Rather than being a militant-looking front against the protesters across the street, the hope was that it would create a welcoming atmosphere for those choosing to attend.
“They knew exactly what to do to make it into an effective, positive, supporter event,” Slark said. “The kids coming down the street saw the rainbows and the flags and the bubbles and the happy music and the dancing, and didn't think of that as being a protest. It wasn't, it was just a street party that we were having because we were having a fun event at the library.”
Last week, Hamilton, Ontario, saw a similar event, though smaller in number on both sides.
Across North America, similar events have been playing out, often not always as well attended by supporters as recent events in Ontario.
In the past month, multiple drag events have been cancelled due to threats against the venues choosing to host them. This includes libraries.
In July 2022, one incident involved a group of men in California attempting to force their way into a drag show before being repelled by attendees inside. Events in Texas have seen armed protesters arrive to object to drag performances. A recent show, also on December 17, saw organized community defence groups– including chapters of John Brown Gun Clubs – also come bearing arms, according to the Texas Observer.
Brooke Lynn Hytes, a Canadian drag queen who performed at the Texas event, posted to Twitter about the scene.
“If you don’t have 150 armed protesters, and a S.W.A.T team on the roof, outside your show are you even doing Drag?”
Homophobic and transphobic rhetoric is pervasive in extremist and far-right spaces and Canada is no exception. This language has found a home among mainstream pundits like Tucker Carlson and online influencers like Chaya Raichik who runs the “Libs of TikTok” social media accounts. Northern contributions to this space include Chris Elston, as well as multiple trans-antagonistic organizations.
Drag performers are not inherently transgender, but have been equated as such by the far-right. This narrative is what has repeatedly driven protests of not just drag events but other groups, organizations or events that may be construed as involving “gender ideology” or indoctrinating children.
Little data exists tracking anti-2SLGBTQ+ mobilization in Canada, however, according to the Armed Conflict Location And Event Data Project (ACLED), mobilization in the US – including demonstrations, political violence, and offline propaganda activity – has risen to its highest levels since the ACLED started collecting data in 2020.
Before the report’s publication in November, most of 2022’s demonstrations have taken place in California (22 events), Texas (17 events), Florida (nine events), and Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, and Illinois (seven events each) – more than tripling the totals of the year before.
For many, the threat of violence is already far too real. November saw the community of Colorado Springs, Colorado, struck by tragedy when a gunman opened fire at the LGBTQ nightclub, Club Q. Killing five people and injuring 17 others, he was eventually stopped by the quick intervention of two patrons.