Family-friendly drag events across Canada, many of which are hosted by municipal libraries, have been targeted by a flurry of hateful comments and threats during Pride Month, leading to numerous police investigations and concerns about the safety of the LGBTQ community. There was renewed concern.
From St John to Victoria, more than a half-dozen librarians and drag performers reported being inundated online and over the phone with homophobic slurs and, in some cases, threats of violence.
Drag Story Hour events are popular at many libraries in the country, and usually feature an artist reading children’s books about inclusion. They are often organized in collaboration with local LGBTQ associations and have caused only minor controversy in the past.
But between a boom in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies in America and a conservative movement in Canada influenced by right-wing politics south of the border, drag incidents of all ages have turned into flashpoints of anger.
The city of Dorval, a Montreal suburb, received a wave of complaints in early June, as soon as it announced that its library was hosting a story hour with renowned local artist Barbada.
“We got hate mail. We got threats. You name it — we got it,” said Sebastian Gauthier, a spokesman for the city.
In the comments, library staff were accused of, among other things, aiding pedophiles and threatening lawsuits. His personal information was also circulated online.
“We received even more alarming threats to the activity, people threatened to come and do the same and during the event,” Gauthier said.
Montreal police patrolled the June 11 incident, which was without incident, and have opened an investigation into the threats.
“I’ve worked for the city for almost 20 years. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gauthier said.
An all-ages drag show in Victoria was canceled in mid-June after the cafe it was scheduled to host received threatening phone calls.
A spokesperson for For the Love of Drag said, “Our show has been running for the past three years with no complaints or concerns from anyone in the community.”
The spokesperson asked Nation World News to withdraw his name due to ongoing security concerns.
“It’s scary to be reminded that there are people out there who wish you weren’t there, that they could harm you – especially during Pride Month,” the spokesperson said in an email exchange.
The spokesman said the police investigation did not treat the incident as a hate crime and no charges were filed but a restraining order was issued against one person.
Libraries in Pembroke, Ont., Pickering Ont., Orilea, Ont., and Calgary also confirmed receiving a large amount of negative comments for hosting their own Drag Story Hour events this month.
Ontario Provincial Police said they have an active investigation related to the Pembroke incident, but declined to provide further details.
There seems to be a variety of sources for the rise of hatred. For example, in St. John’s, former and aspiring candidates of the People’s Party of Canada were among those who posted misleading images on their social media accounts earlier this month to suggest a story hour event at a local library. aired, which was not age appropriate.
One image was from a 2019 show in the US, the other was from an adult drag performance in April.
The post sparked a long string of hateful comments against the artist, Alex Saunders, whose drag persona is Justin Toodeep.
“We read some books about a prince and a knight who fell in love and then some books on different types of families that you can see,” Saunders said of the June program for all ages.
Saunders says he sent screen grabs of more than 40 pages of comments to St. John Police, one of which said it was time to “light the torch”, and another that called for Saunders and a fellow cast member to be burned alive .
Saunders says he was told there was insufficient evidence of a direct threat to pursue charges.
,[It has been] It’s so scary and awkward and I’m really trying to put a brave face to my community, but I was totally crying, crying, not wanting to leave the house,” Saunders said.
The public library in Pickering said it received a wave of homophobic and transphobic comments, both via phone and online, following an article and video report by True North, a right-wing media outlet founded by Candice Malcolm.
On True North’s Facebook page, posts about the incident received more than a dozen homophobic comments, many of which accused drag artists of pedophilia, a long-running trope in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
In several instances, groups and social media accounts associated with Freedom Convoy encouraged supporters to protest Drag Story Hour events.
Stand4th, an anti-vax mandate group that supported the blockade in Ottawa, has issued a series of calls over the past month asking members to contact libraries hosting drag events.
In a post on social messaging app Telegram, the group says the incidents “inspire our kids” and are “disgusting perverse mess”. His posts were shared on the Convoy to Ottawa 2022 channel, one of the largest groups on the app used by convoy supporters.
Members of Calgary Freedom Central – a Telegram channel with nearly 9,000 subscribers that helped rally support for truck blockades this winter in Ottawa and Coutts, Alta. – organized a protest against an incident last week at a Calgary branch. Used abuses during the attempt. public Library.
The members suggested a physical confrontation to show the cast that they were “not welcome” in Calgary. Another user suggested confronting parents who brought their kids to the event.
Like many other online forums, comments on Calgary Freedom Central often use the term “groomer” to describe drag performers or library staff hosting the event.
The abuse, derived from the baseless stereotype that LGBTQ people indulge in pedophilia, is increasingly popular among right-wing groups in the US, where protests this month have disrupted several Drag Story Hour events.
When Calgary’s LGTBQ community became aware of negative online chatter, about 25 members of the community and their supporters came to last week’s Story Hour event to prevent disruptions.
“I want to make sure kids and actors are the safest they can be,” said Farah Nuff, a drag performer who attended the event at the Nichols Family Library.
Despite being subject to threats, officials at municipal libraries hosting such events emphasize their importance and say they will not be intimidated.
Orillia Public Library CEO Bessie Sullivan said she never considered canceling the event, even though callers were threatening to fire her, among other things.
“They pissed me off,” Sullivan said. “So really, what we did was, as it ratcheted up, I added a second story time.”
Library staff in Pembroke say they made several threatening calls and emails, some promising dozens of protesters would disrupt their Drag Story Hour event.
The library’s CEO, Karthi Rajamani, was deeply concerned that she approached the police and provided additional security training to her staff. But, like Sullivan, she never considered canceling the event.
“Libraries are community leaders. We should be examples of inclusion and diversity,” Rajamani said.
In the end no one showed up at Pembroke to protest. The event was well attended and, Rajamani said, residents applauded for taking the library forward. Several other librarians expressed similar sentiments.