As drag story hours are focused, Rainbow Protection Coalition defends them

As individuals protested throughout the road, volunteers gathered exterior Loopy Aunt’s Helen’s in March to guard the D.C. restaurant because it hosted a drag queen story hour. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Publish)

Lily Pastor knew who she was and wished to have a good time it. So, final month, she joined about 50 different volunteers to show a Capitol Hill sidewalk right into a rainbow-filled dance get together exterior Loopy Aunt Helen’s, a restaurant that was internet hosting a narrative time occasion with a drag queen.

Anti-trans protesters had gathered throughout the road and have been deriding hormone remedy, a therapy that supplied Pastor a method to really feel extra like herself. However Pastor stated standing alongside the individuals she met — a trans man, a queer trainer, straight allies — was empowering.

“It’s a reminder there’s an entire bunch of odds, however we’re on this collectively,” stated Pastor, 37, of Baltimore. “We are able to come collectively and really feel superior.”

This function — as defenders of drag queens, as blockers of hate — felt private. However beneath all of that, Pastor stated it was onerous to disregard the scary causes all of them felt compelled to crowd the pavement.

Drag story hours are occasions the place toddlers hear as a drag queen reads books that train them to be form and inclusive and to like themselves, irrespective of how totally different they might really feel from others. Republican legislators, conservative commentators and far-right extremists have protested and criticized the story hours as a part of a broader backlash to expanded LGBTQ rights, together with false and harmful claims that homosexual and transgender persons are “grooming” youngsters.

These occasions have additionally been the targets of bomb threats, together with at a restaurant in Virginia’s Fairfax County in December; a coffee shop in Tempe, Ariz., in February; and a bookstore in Indianapolis final month. Shane Mayson, the proprietor of Loopy Aunt Helen’s, stated there was a bomb risk to his residence and D.C. restaurant in the course of the drag story hour in March, too, although it didn’t find yourself being credible.

Such threats and protests served because the catalyst for the creation across the nation for protection teams just like the nationwide nonprofit Parasol Patrol and the one Pastor stood alongside Saturday morning, known as the Rainbow Defense Coalition. That group now has about 200 event-day volunteers to affix its dance events across the D.C. area, stated Kristin Mink (D), a council member for Maryland’s Montgomery County and one of many Rainbow Protection Coalition’s organizers. Of these, normally about 50 to 100 individuals present up at a given occasion, stated Beth DiGregorio, president of the native Drag Story Hour chapter.

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“We’re exhibiting that we aren’t scarce,” stated Rune Kuhns, 29, who’s nonbinary and has been volunteering at these occasions for about seven months, together with the March story time at Loopy Aunt Helen’s. “We’re right here and we’re a pressure.”

The defenders have a system for what they see as their joyful resistance. They arrive at an occasion at the very least half an hour early to say area, standing shoulder to shoulder. Just a few scan for protesters. They blast Disney music, which organizers say doubles as acquainted songs for kids and a tactical technique: If such songs play within the background of movies that protesters put up, social media platforms might take away them due to copyright infringement.

The defenders cheer within the face of protests however don’t interact with protesters, as a result of they are saying even verbal fights can look scary to youngsters. Their rainbow umbrellas double as shields. When households made their manner into Loopy Aunt Helen’s in March, the defenders lifted the umbrellas over and round them, so the youngsters wouldn’t see the individuals throughout the road holding an indication that learn “PRIDE IS OF THE DEVIL.”

“We’re going to do all the things we will to maintain one another protected, as a result of we’re a neighborhood and that’s what we do,” an organizer advised the gang earlier than the story hour kicked off. “And tell us in the event you see one thing suspicious.”

For a couple of hours, at the very least, the defenders hoped to clean out any of that negativity with celebration.

Carly Hughes stood on the sidewalk holding her rainbow umbrella, the identical one she used to defend herself in February when members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a historical past of violence, shoved individuals defending a drag story hour in Maryland and shouted, “You’re unhealthy dad and mom!” at households strolling right into a Silver Spring bookstore.

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Hughes wore a blue sweatshirt that stated “maintain it form” and blew bubbles towards the boys voicing anti-trans rhetoric on the opposite aspect of the road. Although she stated it was scary to confront members of the Proud Boys, Hughes, who’s queer and a kindergarten trainer, has saved coming again. She stated she hopes the presence of so many individuals on the road dancing, singing and laughing can encourage youngsters to stay full and vibrant lives, irrespective of how they determine.

“Seeing queer adults alive and joyful is one thing that’s actually necessary for queer youngsters and only for any child,” Hughes, 24, stated. “Seeing people who find themselves free of their self-expression and free in who they love and free to be who they need to be, I feel is empowering for anyone.”

Drag queen Evita Peroxide held again tears as she watched the defenders escort households into Loopy Aunt Helen’s beneath the cover of umbrellas. She considered the occasions she carried out at drag reveals in Northern Virginia, the 2 bomb threats she stated these venues confronted, and the way she wished such a crowd had been there to help her by means of it.

“There’s lots of hate on the market,” stated Peroxide, who, in one other outfit, is a public college trainer. “I’m proud to be a member of the neighborhood. I’m proud to be a performer. I’m proud to work with youngsters as effectively.”

Contained in the restaurant, drag queen storyteller Tara Hoot, decked out in a shimmering inexperienced costume, matching inexperienced heels, pearls and rainbow earrings, learn a few of her favourite books, together with one she reads at each story hour titled “Be Brave Little One.” These have been the sorts of occasions Mayson, who described himself because the homosexual son of a Pentecostal preacher, had in thoughts when he opened his restaurant nearly two years in the past.

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Mayson has been defending his rights since he got here out as homosexual in 1982, and when he first began going to homosexual bars, he stated the drag queens have been the primary individuals to take him beneath their wings. He has since hosted bingo, trivia, burlesque reveals, stand-up comedy, open mic nights and a gospel drag brunch.

The drag story occasions, he famous, are additionally “not a homosexual occasion.” He emphasised that many of the viewers is heterosexual; cisgender dad and mom selecting to carry their youngsters. Mayson stays resolute in his want to create an area at Loopy Aunt Helen’s that’s welcoming for everybody. Or, as he places it: “We’re a neighborhood restaurant that has lots of fairy magic.”

“Right here we’re, once more, having to struggle for a similar rights that we’ve already secured,” Mayson recalled considering on the occasion final month. “Now, they’re knocking on this door they usually’re attempting to say, ‘You’ll be able to’t do what it’s you’re doing,’ despite the fact that my neighbors need it. Although the town is embracing us. And everybody who’s coming right here is having an amazingly good time.”

Simon Heil, 25, of Silver Spring, joined the refrain of defenders chanting “I scream! You scream! All of us scream for ice cream!” Throughout the road, a protester used a microphone to inform them: “You’ll hell. However in the event you repent you possibly can obtain salvation.”

To Heil, they weren’t combating the protesters. They have been singing and chanting to protect their very own pleasure. Heil saved considering of his youthful self, he stated, the child who in center college knew he was trans however didn’t have the vocabulary for it. When he lastly met a trans man whereas in highschool he realized: “Oh, that’s me.”

He seemed on the public show of solidarity for the LGBTQ neighborhood round him and stated he hoped queer or questioning youngsters assume: “Perhaps I may also be allowed to precise myself in a manner that doesn’t utterly match up with how I’ve been advised I ought to be.” He stayed exterior because the defenders blasted “Let it Go” from “Frozen,” “Buddy Like Me” from “Aladdin” and “Below the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid.”

“My aim, my need for trans youngsters who’re going through a lot violence is to have the ability to dream of dwelling a boring life,” Heil stated. “That’s what I wished. I wished to know that there was somebody like me who was older who had made it, who had made it to the purpose the place they didn’t have to fret about who they have been every single day.”

As soon as the occasion ended, defenders escorted Kathryn Grandstaff-Bradford, 41, of Alexandria and her 4-year-old daughter away from Loopy Aunt Helen’s.

Mayson stated he has been working with regulation enforcement and volunteers to extend safety measures on the restaurant’s subsequent occasion, scheduled for this weekend. And regardless of the bomb scare, this March story hour had proceeded safely, too.

Grandstaff-Bradford’s daughter clutched a unicorn plushie as her mother requested: “Did we have now a lot enjoyable? Are you able to say, ‘Thanks, Rainbow Brigade’?”

“Thanks!” her daughter stated. She seemed up on the volunteers and smiled.

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