Protesters clashed in the West Village on Sunday afternoon over a first-of-its-kind Drag Story Hour Read-A-Thon hosted by Attorney General Letitia James, resulting in one opponent being cuffed.
The concept of Drag Story Hour, public children’s readings in which local drag queens read books to families, has galvanized New Yorkers and Americans alike over the last few years. While many support the readings, some opponents have politicized the topic, pushing false claims that the events sexualize children.
The scene outside the The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center on March 19 was no different.
Sunday’s event — hosted by James in partnership with a coalition of advocacy organizations and supported by a bevy of other elected officials — turned the traditional hour-long reading into a four-hour event brimming with inclusive, LGBTQ+ friendly arts and crafts.
Approximately 200 attendees enjoyed the read-a-thon, led by the Drag Kings, Queens and Royalty of Drag Story Hour NYC at the center, a resource hub for New York City’s queer community.
As families arrived with excited smiles, a group of protesters assembled across the street — many of them brandishing Trump signs and wearing garb supporting White Supremacist groups like the Proud Boys.
“I’m not against gay people. You could do whatever you want. My thing is why are you pushing it on children?” one 33-year-old protester charged. “When I was a child, we were allowed to be children!”
But, as opponents chanted, as many as three times the amount of counter-protesters arrived to support the programming. Supporters of Drag Story Hour stood in defiance of what they called hateful rhetoric, and in favor of the inclusive programming, which is currently being threatened by Republican lawmakers across the country.
Counter-protesters waved rainbow flags and attempted to block out those yelling obscenities by singing songs and dancing.
“The LGBT Center is incredibly important to me personally, and to our community. The fact that there is a drag story hour and that the Attorney General of the State of New York is attending and is in support of this means something, to me,” Jay W. Walker told amNewYork Metro as he helped lead the charge against those on the far right. “We knew these evil, disturbed people were going to show up here and try to cause trauma for kids and their parents and we just want to be here to block that.”
Despite police attempting to keep the two groups separated, a few broke through the ranks. One man wearing a gold Guy Fawkes mask attacked those defending the story hour, deeming his adversaries “antifa” as he threw punches and grabbed at press cameras. The man was swiftly arrested and led away in handcuffs.
Other hecklers also attempted to gain access to the entrance of the story hour, only to be met with defenders discharging a wall of umbrellas that prevented them from proceeding or filming. While this resulted in a shoving match, no further arrests were made.
The attorney general shared that she helped host the Drag Story Hour Read-A-thon to condemn hate and disinformation in New York City, which she acknowledged has seen a recent rise in homophobic protest and fear mongering.
“The recent rise in anti-LGBTQ+ protests, rhetoric, and policies has left New Yorkers — myself included — devastated and disappointed. But I know better than anyone that when the choice is between love and hate, between joy and venom, New Yorkers will always choose love, and New Yorkers will always choose joy,” Attorney General James said in a statement. “I am proud to have been joined by my colleagues in advocacy and government today in celebration of the love, joy, and family fun that Drag Story Hour brings to our communities. Hate has no home in New York, and I will always fight to ensure our LGBTQ+ siblings’ rights are upheld and defended.”