Proud Boys disrupt Drag Queen Story Hour event, prompting hate-crime probe

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A children’s story hour at a California library was disrupted by several members of the Proud Boys on Saturday, prompting local authorities to launch a hate-crime investigation as LGBTQ and anti-extremism advocates warn that such threats by far-right extremists are intensifying.

Roughly 25 miles from San Francisco across the East Bay, the San Lorenzo Library was hosting Drag Queen Story Hour when a group of five men interrupted the event and began hurling homophobic and transphobic insults at attendees, including the drag performer known as Panda Dulce, officials said. Drag Queen Story Hour, where performers read books to children, takes place in a part of the library where any member of the community can hold a meeting, according to Lt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

“The men were described as extremely aggressive with a threatening violent demeanor causing people to fear for their safety,” Kelly said in a statement. In addition to the hate-crime probe, authorities have also launched an investigation of whether the Proud Boys’ actions “annoyed or harassed children,” which is a violation of the penal code.

On Monday, detectives were still investigating. They were expected to hand over any evidence to the district attorney, who will determine whether hate-crime charges should be brought against the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence.

With the Bay Area being the epicenter of the Pride movement, LGBTQ events are often uneventful and “go off without a hitch,” Kelly told The Washington Post on Monday.

“As far as hatred and being a focal point, I’ve not seen that in years past. This is kind of new,” Kelly said. He also noted that the Proud Boys members who disrupted Saturday’s reading event were not believed to be from the San Lorenzo community.

“We don’t have right-wing extremists groups that come out into the open in the Bay Area all that much,” he said. “We believe there’s a group connected in San Mateo County, so we believe these people crossed the bay for this event.”

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Kelly said investigators believe the confrontation was spurred by the Twitter account Libs of TikTok, which traffics in anti-LGBTQ sentiment and propels incendiary stories into the right-wing media sphere.

Across the country, extremist groups with a far-right or white-supremacist ideology have increasingly coalesced around targeting LGBTQ events and individuals and sought to justify their attacks with false claims that gay and transgender people — and sometimes perceived ideological opponents — are preying on children.

Dulce, who is among the co-founders of the Drag Queen Story Hour program, said the men marched in making white-power hand gestures and had their “cameras blazing.”

“They said: ‘Who brought the tranny? It’s a groomer. It’s a pedophile. Why do you bring your kids to this event?’” Dulce said in an interview with KGO-TV in San Francisco.

That same day in Idaho, police arrested 31 men allegedly affiliated with the white-supremacist group Patriot Front on charges that they were conspiring to riot at a local Pride event. Extremism researchers say hate groups that target LGBTQ-friendly organizations or individuals are motivated by often overlapping beliefs in hyper-masculinity and archaic gender roles, fear of people who are different and the misplaced belief queer groups are amassing power and privilege at their expense.

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Over the past two years, conservative activists and lawmakers have increasingly fought over transgender and LGBTQ inclusivity and visibility in girl’s sports, school curriculums and public libraries.

Libraries throughout the United States have seen a big increase in the number of attacks and protests over inclusive reading lists or book displays in recent years, while the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has seen an overall increase in the targeting of libraries in general, said Emily Knox, who teaches at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois and serves as editor of the ALA’s Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy.

Libraries are also one of the few public faces of local government where individuals feel they can be heard, Knox said. Most people don’t go to city council meetings, Knox said, but lots of people go to the library.

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Story hours have long been a staple of public library programming meant to promote literacy and engage young readers, though the Drag Queen Story Hour program is organized in local chapters and hosted by a local library.

Jonathan Hamilt, executive director of Drag Queen Story Hour, said the program drew a strong positive response when it began in 2015 for bringing fun and glamour to children’s story time, though it has always experienced pushback from some conservative groups.

Over the years, however, Hamilt said, pushback has morphed to hate and is now more directed at drag culture instead of gay people overall.

“With right-wing conservatives and Republican groups, outright saying they don’t like gay people sounds homophobic. It doesn’t play well,” he said. Going after drag culture provides cover under the argument that drag queens reading to children is inappropriate or untoward.

Contrary to what Drag Queen Story Hour opponents claim, Hamilt said, the group isn’t trying to persuade or “indoctrinate” anyone. It exists for the people who want and need it, he said.

“Our program is for queer families and their allies,” he said. “It’s not our job to teach people [about] the difference between sex and gender, or to make people like us. People who are against us, no matter how much we explain what we’re doing, they’re not going to understand or listen.”

Dulce, the drag performer who was allegedly harassed by Proud Boys at the San Lorenzo Library, told KGO there’s no reason to fear or hate them.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Dulce said. “I just want to tell you a story. That’s it.”

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