More than two dozen members of the Proud Boys and another right-wing group known as the Guardians of Divinity tried to disrupt a Drag Story Hour (DSH) event at the Jackson Heights Library on Thursday, Dec. 29, but they were met by a much larger group of around 150 DSH supporters.
Dozens of police from the 115th Precinct in Jackson Heights struggled to keep the two groups on opposite sides of 81st Street. At one point, a protester wearing a skull bandana to cover his face fired off a Nazi salute before he was led away from the crowd and arrested.
The Proud Boys are a far-right extremist group founded in 2016 by media personality Gavin McInnes that is designated as a hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center for their white supremacist and racist rhetoric.
The Guardians of Divinity claim Drag Story Hour events “groom children to accept sexual behavior and preferences at ages they are too young to understand,” according to the group’s social media accounts.
Nobody was injured during the standoff, which did not interfere with the Drag Story Hour inside the library.
It’s not the first time the two sides clashed.
In September, protesters shouted homophobic epithets at drag performers at a reading at Elmhurst Library and allegedly defaced the district office of Councilman Shekar Krishnan.
In late October, Krishnan organized a community rally to show solidarity for Drag Story Hour and the Queens Public Library that was met by protesters. The near-riot on 81st Street happened nearly two weeks after right-wing groups protested a Drag Story Hour in Chelsea and trespassed at the home of Councilman Erik Bottcher in Manhattan.
Before the scene unfolded in Jackson Heights, Krishnan, Bottcher, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Councilwoman Crystal Hudson put out a joint statement condemning the “homophobic and transphobic” actions and vandalism targeting Drag Story Hours and the Council members.
“Hate in all its pernicious forms, including attacks on our LGBTQIA+ communities, have no place in our city and must be unequivocally condemned. We stand with New Yorkers gathering today in Jackson Heights to confront hate and defend families reading with their children,” they said. “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. It is particularly disturbing that these anti-LGBTQIA+ protesters have focused their harassment in Jackson Heights and Chelsea, two neighborhoods with historical importance as safe communities and centers of organizing for the LGBTQIA+ movement in New York City.”
Drag Story Hour organizes free events accessible to families that engage children in arts and crafts and imaginative storytelling.
“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,” the joint statement concluded. “We will not stay silent or accept these shameful attempts to intimidate and spread hate, especially after recent incidents that have devolved into violence and put New Yorkers in harm’s way. This City Council is proud to support children’s programs that promote inclusivity, literacy and joy.”
Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott witnessed the clash unfold on the street and from inside the library.
“It was just a fascinating dichotomy, out on the street there was a lot of anger, passion, a lot of yelling and really tense moments on the street,” Walcott told QNS. “And then you contrast it with the calm and quiet inside the library with the high interest of the parents with their children and the staff working on behalf of the community. It was like one story outside versus a different story inside.”
He said QPL stands firmly behind the LGBTQ+ community and will continue to support Drag Story Hour, which it has hosted at its branches since 2018.
“A library is a treasured place. I always like to say the library is the community’s living room,” Walcott said. “Our goal is to make sure we provide safety to our staff and our community members and our children and families and make sure we do all we can to protect the library as the last truly open democratic institution. We don’t ask for your ID. We don’t ask your background, or ask where you come from; we’re just there to serve the public. You can just walk in our door and people can learn about themselves, learn about others, and to get information and services.”