After being targeted at his office and home over the past few months by a group of far-right protesters vehemently opposed to Drag Story Hour events, City Council Member Erik Bottcher said Thursday that he’s looking to increase funding for the program in the coming fiscal year.
Bottcher, an out Democrat who represents Manhattan neighborhoods including the West Village and Chelsea, made the remarks during a sit-down interview on Thursday afternoon, in which he and his colleagues who’ve also been targeted — Council Members Crystal Hudson (D-Brooklyn) and Shekar Krishnan (D-Queens) — shared their experiences with reporters.
“I’m going to increase funding this year,” Bottcher said. “If these protesters were hoping to affect funding for Drag Story Hour, they succeeded, only in the opposite way than they intended.”
Drag Story Hour NYC holds readings hosted by drag artists throughout the city at libraries, schools and other community spaces. It’s based in the city and has been organizing storytelling events across the country since 2015.
The program is primarily funded through a combination of state and city dollars, according to a spokesperson for Council Speaker Adrienne Adams’ office, but several council members also use some of the discretionary funds allotted to them each year to support it.
Sean Coughlin, Bottcher’s chief of staff, told amNewYork Metro the council member allotted $10,000 of his Cultural Immigrant Initiative funding to Drag Story Hour for the fiscal year ending June 30. He, however, said it isn’t yet clear how much additional money Bottcher will be able to put into the program for the coming July 1, 2023-June 30, 2024 fiscal year.
“We will learn in the coming months through the budget process how much additional funding we will have available to support this incredible organization,” Coughlin said.
Some council members are considering doubling their allocations to the program this budget cycle, Speaker Adams’ spokesperson said. When asked about taking that same approach, Coughlin said it’s “definitely something we would love to do.”
Alejandro Gonzalez, a spokesperson for Hudson — who’s also out, said the council member aims to up her funding for the program as well, but declined to say how much the increase would be.
Krishnan, who represents western Queens neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, said in a statement that he doubled his district’s funding for Drag Story Hour in the last fiscal year from the previous one, when the area was represented by out former Council Member Daniel Dromm. He said he would “explore all possible ways” to boost financial support for the program in this year’s budget.
“We do fund Drag Story Hour through our individual discretionary funding and in fact doubled our district’s funding for the program,” Krishnan said. “We are excited that even more Council Members are planning to fund Drag Story Hour this year.”
Bottcher, Hudson and Krishnan said they’ve all been the subject of “harassment” and “intimidation” from a group of agitators opposed to Drag Story Hour over the past several months, after speaking out against the group’s demonstrations in their districts. The far-right organization believed to be behind many of the protests — the Guardians of Divinity — has shown up outside Drag Story Hours across the city peddling false anti-LGBTQ claims that the events “groom” children for sex at ages where they’re too young to understand it.
Among the incidents was a Dec. 19 protest of a Drag Story Hour at the New York Public Library’s Chelsea branch, which led to demonstrators chasing the drag artists out of the event and surrounding her car, according to a published report. Another took place later that month, outside the Queens Public Library’s Jackson Heights branch, and drew members of the far-right extremist group, The Proud Boys.
Krishnan said there’s a clear contrast between the raucous protests outside Drag Story Hours and the “tranquil” events inside.
“When you look at, you know, what’s going on outside Drag Story Hour, with all of them there and all they’re saying, versus [when] you go inside the library, it’s like night and day,” Krishnan said. “You walk in, it is utterly tranquil and quiet, children are coloring, singing nursery rhymes, reading kids’ books.”
A group of the protesters showed up at Bottcher’s home and office on Dec. 19, vandalizing both with the word “groomer” — an anti-LGBTQ term that conflates homosexuality with pedophilia — and accosted one of his neighbors outside his building. Two of them were arrested.
“To me it’s a pretty clear line between exercising your first amendment right and then crossing the line,” Bottcher said. “In my instance, entering the premises illegally, assaulting my neighbor, vandalism. There’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.”
Following her attendance at a pre-November midterm election rally for Governor Kathy Hochul at the Stonewall Inn in the West Village, Hudson said protesters came to her Brooklyn home and posted videos of the front of her house online.
“It was harassment and intimidation,” Hudson said. “It’s not like protesting. It was literally ringing my neighbor’s bell, saying ‘is she in there, bring her out.’ Screaming all sorts of things for hours right in front of my house. And then taking videos of the front of my house and posting those videos as well.”
Krishnan said the protesters have shown up in his district a total of 11 times over the past few months — including four times at his district office and two at his home.
What these incidents have demonstrated, Krishnan said, is that people need to start thinking of them not as protests, but rather as harassment and intimidation.
“The truth is that far-right extremism must be taken more seriously,” Krishnan said. “It begins by first reframing and rethinking how we talk about these things. This is not protests, this is harassment, intimidation, of communities too.”