Family drag events across Canada, many of which are hosted by public libraries, have been the target of a barrage of hateful comments and threats during Pride month, sparking multiple police investigations and fresh concerns about to the safety of the LGBTQ community.
More than half a dozen libraries and drag artists from Saint John to Victoria said they were inundated online and on the phone with homophobic slurs and, in some cases, threats of violence.
Drag Story Hour events are popular at many libraries across the country and typically feature a performer 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 amid a surge in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and politics in the United States and a conservative movement in Canada increasingly influenced by right-wing politics south of the border, drag events for all ages have turned into hotbeds of anger.
The City of Dorval, a suburb of Montreal, received a wave of complaints in early June as soon as it announced that its library was hosting a story hour with famous local artist Barbada.
“We have received hate mail. We received threats. You name it, we got it,” said city spokesman Sébastien Gauthier.
In the comments, library staff were, among other things, accused of helping pedophiles and threatened with legal action. Their personal details were also leaked online.
“We also received more disturbing threats to the activity itself, people threatening to walk by and do this and that during the event,” Gauthier said.
Montreal police patrolled the June 11 event, which passed without incident, and 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 which was to host received a series of threatening phone calls.
“Our show has been going for three years without any complaints or concerns from anyone in the community,” said a spokesperson for For the Love of Drag, the group that was scheduled to perform.
The spokesperson asked CBC News not to release his name due to ongoing security concerns.
“It’s scary to remember that there are people who wish you didn’t exist, who wish they could hurt you, especially during Pride month,” the spokesperson said in an exchange. of emails.
A police investigation did not treat the incident as a hate crime and no charges were laid, but a restraining order was issued against one person, the spokesperson said.
Libraries in Pembroke, Ont., Pickering Ont., Orillia, Ont., and Calgary also confirmed receiving a lot of negative feedback for hosting their own Drag Story Hour events this month.
The Ontario Provincial Police said they were actively investigating the Pembroke event, but declined to provide further details.
Groups linked to the convoy
The wave of hatred seems to have various sources. In Saint John, for example, former and aspiring People’s Party of Canada candidates were among those who posted misleading images on their social media accounts to suggest that a story hour at a local library earlier this month -it was not suitable for their age.
One image was from a 2019 burlesque show in the United States, the other was from an adult drag performance in April.
The posts sparked a long series of hateful comments against performer, Alex Saunders, whose drag character is Justin Toodeep.
“We read a few books about a prince and a knight who fell in love, and then a few books about different types of families that you might see,” Saunders said of June’s all-ages event.
Saunders says they sent more than 40 pages of screenshots of the comments to Saint John police, including one that said it was time to “light the torches” and another that called for Saunders to and another interpreter are burned alive.
Saunders says they were told there was not enough evidence of a direct threat to pursue the charges.
“[It has been] very scary and weird and i really tried to put on a brave face for my community but i had a real meltdown, crying, i didn’t want to leave the house,” Saunders said.
The Pickering Public Library said it received a flurry of homophobic and transphobic comments, both by phone and online, following an article and video report by True North, a right-wing outlet founded by the former Conservative MP Candice Malcolm.
On True North’s Facebook page, posts about the event received more than a dozen homophobic comments, many of which accuse dragsters of paedophilia, a longstanding trope in anti-LGTBQ rhetoric.
In several instances, groups and social media accounts affiliated with the Freedom Convoy encouraged supporters to protest Drag Story Hour events.
Stand4Thee, an anti-vax mandate group that has backed the blockade in Ottawa, has made several calls over the past month for members to contact libraries hosting drag events.
In posts on Telegram, a social messaging app, the group says the events are “indoctrinating our children” and are “disgusting evil filth”. Their posts were shared on the Convoy to Ottawa 2022 channel, one of the biggest 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 in Ottawa and Coutts, Alta., this winter – used slurs as they tried to mobilize opposition to an event last week at a branch of the Calgary Public Library.
The members suggested a physical confrontation to show the artists that they were “not welcome” in Calgary. Another user suggested confronting the parents who brought their children to the event.
As in many other online forums, Calgary Freedom Central comments often used the term “groomer” to describe the drag performers or library staff who organized the events.
The slur, which is derived from the baseless stereotype that LGBTQ people are involved in paedophilia, is increasingly popular among right-wing groups in the United States, where several story-time events have been disrupted. through protests this month.
When Calgary’s LGTBQ community learned of the negative online chatter, about 25 community members and their supporters showed up for last week’s story time to avoid disruption.
“I want to make sure the kids and the performers are as protected as possible,” said Farrah Nuff, a drag performer who attended the event at the Nicholls Family Library.
Despite facing threats, public library officials who host such events insist on their importance and maintain that they will not be intimidated.
Bessie Sullivan, CEO of the Orillia Public Library, said she never considered canceling the event, even though the callers threatened, among other things, to have her fired.
“They pissed me off,” Sullivan said. “So basically what we did, as it picked up speed, I added a second hour of the story.”
Pembroke Library staff said they responded to a slew of threatening calls and emails, with some promising that dozens of protesters would disrupt their storytime event.
Karthi Rajamani, the library’s CEO, was concerned enough to contact the police and give her staff additional security training. 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 to protest in Pembroke. The event was well attended and, Rajamani said, locals applauded the library for carrying on. Several other librarians expressed similar sentiments.