Read also: Drag Story Hour Organizer Unbowed by the Haters, an interview by Nicky Yeager.
For Matteo Guerrero, a queer transgender man in New York City, the sights and sounds on the sidewalk of 81st Street in Queens on Friday afternoon evoked a sort of nostalgia. “It’s like one of my early coming-out Prides,” he said to The Indypendent, talking over the cheers of gay New Yorkers and their allies. Somewhere nearby, ‘Born This Way’ by Lady Gaga was playing. “There’s a lot of dancing, a lot of colors, a lot of magic, and a lot of beautiful friends who sort of come out and support each other.”
On the other side of the street, no more than 50 feet away, were about 10 men holding signs with slogans such as “This Is Not OK” and “Stop Encouraging Child Gender Dysmorphia.” “You’re sick, you’re really sick people!” said an elderly man who wielded a Pride flag that in Sharpie had “Gay For Trump” on it.
This aspect wasn’t exactly like Matteo’s first Pride full of magic.
Drag story hour is an event where a drag queen reads to children — “a celebration of gender diversity, offering kids unabashedly queer role models and the confidence to express themselves however they feel comfortable,” says the library’s website.
Guardians Of Divinity, or “GOD,” as they call themselves, is a far-right, anti-LGBTQ, anti-vax group that has protested similar events in the past. Their leader, known as King Jesus on social media, shared that they would protest the Queens event, leading to LGBTQ advocates to organize a counter protest. Chalk on the ground read “Protect Queer Youth,” One sign read “Yo apoyo Drag Story Hour!”
“We work with the producers of Drag Story Hour and the library to get people here,” said Jay W. Walker, an organizer, activist and co-founder of the Reclaim Pride Coalition and the Queer Liberation March. “We make sure that the violent fascist thugs don’t get anywhere near the families that are attending.”
Prior to protesters’ arrival, law enforcement blocked off the entire street to vehicle traffic. On the east side of 81st Street, queer advocates gathered outside the library, while the anti-LGBTQ protestors stood on the west side of the street outside Caffe Bene. Advocates for DSH had begun arriving at 1:30, with nearly 125 of them amassing by 2 p.m. Around 2:15, nine members of Guardians Of Divinity appeared on their side of the street. Speaking through a bullhorn, one man wore a camouflage hat and claimed to be on “the pro-gay side” and added, “I am super straight. Everything I do is for other men.”
Not much of the speech from the anti-story time side could be heard as the drag defenders cheered over them, though. Ukulele players strummed and sang “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga before ABBA songs started being played over a karaoke speaker. Attending parents and children were greeted by a member of the Reclaim Pride Coalition who helped get them through the crowd to the library entrance. “The last time we were here in Jackson Heights we did not have this many people,” said Walker. “[The anti-LGBT protesters] are the outsiders coming in from Long Island, Westchester, wherever. And they’re just coming into our city to stir up trouble, and we’re not gonna let them.”
Around 2:30 pm, anti-LGBT protestor D’Anna Morgan accused one queer advocate of throwing a rock. Accuracy of the claim has been debated in a Twitter thread by journalist Talia Jane. By 3:30 o.m., police had set up second and third barriers to create more distance between the two parties. Walker said the NYPD had improved on their understanding of the need for their presence. “It’s really just going to be about making sure that they get these fascist thugs away from the library and they deploy, you know, numbers to keep them in check and don’t just spend all their time here.”
The crowds stuck around until about 4:15 pm, a quarter-hour after DSH had ended. Guerrero said of the event, “I want this to continue because the best way to learn is when there are culturally-competent spaces with people that represent you, and where there is joy.”