Protesters and supporters clashed outside the Church on the Square in Southeast Baltimore on Saturday over the drag queen story hour hosted by the Canton branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
Meghan McCorkell, a spokesperson for the library system, said the event hosted in association with the national Drag Story Hour drew about 80 attendees, in addition to about 75 supporters outside and fewer than 20 protesters. The demonstrators arrived between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. and left by 5:30 p.m., according to McCorkell.
McCorkell said Sunday that in the three years the library has hosted drag queen story hours, there hasn’t been any significant reaction except for “excited families.” She said she doesn’t know why this event drew protesters.
“We hosted this one at the Canton branch because our Canton library is very well-attended, and the families there expressed interest in it to our children’s librarian,” McCorkell said.
Renee Lau drove a van Saturday for Baltimore Safe Haven, which provides at-risk members of the LGBTQ+ community in Baltimore with “opportunities to transform their lives,” according to the organization’s website. Lau said Baltimore Safe Haven was called upon to act as a buffer between pro-LGBTQ+ organizers and those protesting the drag queen story hour.
At one point, protesters attempted to block a Baltimore Safe Haven van from going down the street, shoving signs in the windows. Lau said she drove the van between the two groups about four times before she was asked by police to stop.
Lau, a trans woman, added that by her fourth drive through, the protesting crowd had dwindled to about five or six people, who Lau said were the most “boisterous” of the group.
“[They said] Everybody was going to go hell if they were gay,” Lau said. “One person repeatedly said [he was] a former trans woman, and he found Jesus, and now, he wasn’t a trans woman anymore.”
On the other side of the street, gathering in front of the church, supporters of the story hour and members of the LGBTQ+ community flew pride flags, held rainbow umbrellas and sometimes crossed the street to stand in front of protesters and block their signs.
Lau saw one sign that read, “Drag Queens Belong In Night Clubs, Not Libraries.” Others referenced corrupting children.
Lau said although some of the protesters tried to shove signs into the faces of her and other supporters of the LGBTQ+ community, nobody provoked violence.
“Most of the shouting was being done by the antis, but a lot of the singing was being done by the gay and lesbian people,” Lau said.
Supporters of the drag time story hour and the LGBTQ+ community were gathered by The Parasol Patrol, according to one of its co-founders, Pasha Ripley. Members of The Parasol Patrol use rainbow umbrellas to block children from seeing protesters’ signs and “angry faces,” Ripley said. The umbrellas also shield kids’ faces if they are being recorded by protesters. The group is based in Colorado.
Ripley, who did not attend the protest, said her group partners with Drag Story Hour because it is responsible and background-checks all of its readers.
McCorkell said The Parasol Patrol guided families in and out of the church to prevent harassment. She added that only families with children were allowed inside, standard protocol for any story time event.
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“The Parasol Patrol, it was triple or quadruple the people who were protesting. They were in front of the church singing and dancing,” McCorkell said. “It was kind of like a street festival.”
Ripley said The Parasol Patrol is nonconfrontational and does not engage with protesters.
“We don’t counterprotest. We don’t bring signs out and yell back and forth with protesters,” Ripley said. “Yelling back and forth like that, if the whole goal is to reduce chaos for the children, feels counterintuitive.”
Ripley said she got a notice about the protest from a Facebook post on a public group about Baltimore. The post called “ALL MEN: DADS, HUSBANDS, UNCLES, POP-POPS” who live in the area to protest the story hour.
Lau said many of the protesters seemed focused on homophobic messaging.
“It was sort of sad to see these people who didn’t quite understand or did not love enough to understand it was nothing malicious, or nobody was trying to ... molest children or convert children. It was just a drag time story hour,” Lau said. “Many of them were preaching that it’s such a sin to be gay or trans or allowing children to even understand that there are such people in the world.”
McCorkell said the library system will continue to host drag queen story hour and promote diverse voices through programming “for all members of our community.”