Local police and prosecutors have launched a hate crime investigation after several members of the right-wing group the Proud Boys barged into and disrupted a Drag Queen Story Hour event at a library I’m San Lorenzo, California.
Police say the event, which features drag queens reading books to children, was taking place at the San Lorenzo Library on Saturday afternoon when a group of five to 10 men stormed into the library. The men began hurling homophobic and transphobic insults at attendees, including drag performer Panda Dulce.
Dulce, one of the co-founders of the Drag Queen Story Hour program, said the men marched into the area of the library where the event was being held, making “white power” gestures with their hands and using their phone cameras to record confrontations with parents whose children were in attendance.
“They said, ‘Who brought the tranny? It’s a groomer. It’s a pedophile. Why do you bring your kids to this event?’ he told San Francisco ABC affiliate KGO-TV.
Library security escorted Dulce away from the men, and police were called to the scene.
“The men were described as extremely aggressive with a threatening violent demeanor causing people to fear for their safety,” Lt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, said in a statement.
Kelly told KGO-TV that police believe the confrontation was spurred by the Twitter account Libs of TikTok, which seeks to ridicule and highlight the antics of cultural liberals by capturing and publicizing quotes, images, or videos that purportedly reveal their true “agenda.”
The account, run by a woman in Brooklyn, N.Y., often highlights planned events where children may be exposed to LGBTQ individuals or content, such as Pride-themed events or Drag Queen Story Hours. The account’s founder has previously bragged about getting teachers fired, and has encouraged followers to join local school boards in order to punish or remove teachers who speak on issues related to gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The account often traffics in anti-LGBTQ tropes, calling cultural liberals and LGBTQ people “pedophiles,” and accusing them of seeking to “groom” or “indoctrinate” children into accepting homosexuality.
Media Matters of America, a watchdog that tracks and reports on the machinations of, statements made by, and talking points utilized by conservatives, claims that the Libs of TikTok account was tweeting incessantly about the San Lorenzo Library Drag Queen Story Hour prior to the Proud Boys’ actions. Media Matters says the account also highlighted a “Pride in the Park” event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where police arrested 31 individuals allegedly affiliated with the white nationalist group Patriot Front on charges of conspiring to riot in response to the Pride Month event.
Attacks against the LGBTQ community, and the drag community — which is often mistakenly conflated with the transgender community — have increased across the country, particularly as conservative lawmakers pursue bans over LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies in schools, transgender sports bans, and bans on LGBTQ books or content in school curricula or public libraries.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office says it’s investigating the confrontation at the San Lorenzo Library as a possible hate crime — meaning that, if they find sufficient evidence, they could charge some of those involved in the incident with hate crime charges, also known as “bias enhancements,” which could carry stiffer penalties or additional jail time in the case of a guilty verdict.
Police are also looking into whether the Proud Boys’ actions “annoyed or harassed children,” which is a violation of the penal code, according to The Washington Post.
Kelly told the Post that, due to the San Francisco Bay Area’s liberal politics, the longstanding history of the LGBTQ community in the region dating back six decades, and its current status as one of the country’s most LGBTQ-friendly cities, most LGBTQ or Pride-related events are uneventful and “go off without a hitch.”
“As far as hatred and being a focal point, I’ve not seen that in years past. This is kind of new,” he said. “We don’t have right-wing extremists groups that come out into the open in the Bay Area all that much.”
He also noted that the Proud Boys members involved in the library altercation were not from the San Lorenzo area, though there are allegedly right-wing groups in San Mateo, located about a half-hour away, on the opposite side of the bay.
In recent years, due to messaging that casts the LGBTQ and drag communities as threats to children, it has become more common to see conservative groups protest or interrupt LGBTQ-themed events, with activists venting their anger at drag queens for allegedly promoting “gender confusion” or exposing children to what they claim is “age-inappropriate” content.
Jonathan Hamilt, the executive director of Drag Queen Story Hour, said the program initially drew strong, positive responses, particularly from parents of LGBTQ youth or same-sex couples who are raising their own children.
“Our program is for queer families and their allies,” Hamilt told the Post. “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.”
Panda Dulce, the drag queen who was reading at the San Lorenzo Library, says the incident leaves her feeling unsafe, even in her own home. But she doesn’t want to be a victim and allow fear to stop her from doing what she loves.
“They were successful in scaring us,” she said of the Proud Boys. “But they weren’t successful in their ultimate goal which is to make us go away because of their own discomfort with the diversity of our world. They failed in that.”
She says people have misinterpreted the intent of the event, and noted that the children in the audience on Saturday were more terrified by the Proud Boys than by the presence of a drag queen.
“I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to tell you a story,” she told KGO-TV. “That’s it. I just want to tell you a story.”
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