Police from the 115th Precinct put up barricades at opposite sides of 81st Street in Jackson Heights Friday in anticipation of protestors attempting to disrupt Drag Story Hour (DSH) at the Queens Public Library branch.
DSH events across the city have been targeted by right-wing groups with increasing frequency in recent months, but in Jackson Heights, the community has repeatedly turned out to show support. Unlike the chaotic scene outside the Jackson Heights Library on Dec. 29, which included altercations between the two factions, Friday’s reading was non-violent, primarily because just a handful of anti-LGBTQ+ protesters showed up.
Unlike the December event, there was no sign of the Proud Boys and only a few members of the Guardians of Divinity were among the right-wing protesters. Ridgewood school teacher Frankie Dascola, an executive board member for Drag Story Hour NYC, said there has been a recent uptick in aggression towards the LGBTQ+ community and drag story hours across New York City in recent months.
“The importance, in general, is to focus on literacy, growth, and celebrating arts and self-expression,” Dascola said. “We teach our kids how to appreciate various types of individuals, understand that the world is a wonderfully diverse place, and that through that exposure to all these amazing things, they can live a really fulfilling awesome life with other amazing awesome people that don’t have to look like them and don’t have to exactly be them.”
Bella Noche grew up in Astoria but now lives in Hicksville, Long Island and started as a storyteller with the NYC chapter five years ago, then went on to organize the Long Island chapter.
“I grew up extremely conservative even though I did grow up in New York City, and Drag Story Hour provides something for not just kids but for families like I wish I had when I was younger,” Noche said. “It would have made my coming out and growing up a lot easier.”
Supporters gathered outside the library holding signs, using noise-makers; one played the ukulele while another drummed. At certain points, the supporters sang children’s songs to drown out the shouting from the protesters.
Noche said the community support means so much to the storytellers and the children who attend.
“We just spread a message of love and positivity as well as being yourself and acceptance, which I think is the exact message we need in the world right now,” Noche said.
Dascola added that it is important to encourage the growth and development of the youngsters.
“We basically just come in and we read kid’s story books and have a good time,” Dascola said. “There’s usually arts and crafts involved, and people want to come out and protest and say terrible things and harass our storytellers, and so we have a community of supporters who come out and celebrate the joy that we do in our literacy and arts programs.”
Friday’s reading by Drag Story Hour NYC was funded by Councilman Shekar Krishnan who has been subjected to personal attacks and vandalism at his district office and Jackson Heights home several times since September for his ongoing support of DSH. He was relieved that there was no violence in front of the library and was proud that once again, the Jackson Heights community turned out in solidarity.
“Here in Jackson Heights, we show our children to stand up for each other; we teach them that all are loved,” Krishnan said. “The New York City Council’s support for Drag Story Hour is unwavering. As was evident on Friday, the love and joy taught by this program will always drown out the hate.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.