Several library workers and event organizers across Canada are facing hateful comments and violent threats in response to family-friendly drag events planned during Pride month.
From Saint John to Victoria, more than half a dozen libraries and drag performers have reported incidents of harassment online and by phone, including homophobic slurs, aggressive threats and anti-LGBTQ2S+ rhetoric. The violence is emerging from Drag Queen Story Hour events, which usually feature a performer in drag reading children’s books to an all-ages crowd.
“Doing drag is about first and foremost giving back to your community,” Saint John drag king Alex Saunders, who saw dozens of hate comments after hosting one event at their local library earlier in June, told CBC News.
“I haven’t been letting it get me down too much,” Saunders added. “But it makes me feel very unsafe in my own community.”
In the past, these events often only stirred minor controversy. But a recent surge in anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate across the United States has been spilling over into Canada.
In the past two months, numerous U.S. states have experienced acts of intimidation toward the LGBTQ2S+ community. The words “Pervs Work Here” were spray-painted over the exterior of a California elementary school, while libraries in various states have received complaints about featuring Pride displays. At least two Drag Queen Story Hour events—one in the San Francisco area and another in North Carolina—were stormed by members of the far-right terrorist group Proud Boys.
Anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate has also been seen in new policies across the United States. Signed into law in April, Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education Bill” prohibits discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 classrooms and allows parents to sue school districts that expose their children to material that believe is “not age-appropriate.”
At least a dozen states have followed in Florida’s footsteps by considering similar legislation, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Alabama’s version of the bill—which extends all the way through the fifth grade—was signed into law in April, along with legislation criminalizing doctors who provide gender-affirming care. Alabama’s law also forces public school teachers and other faculty members to out trans students to their families.
Even though the vast majority of these proposals have failed to become law, it hasn’t stopped anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate from trickling into Canadian provinces.
In early June, a teen from Mississauga, Ontario, was arrested after allegedly making online threats to commit a mass shooting at a Pride event in Florida. Shortly after, organizers of an all-ages drag show at a Victoria, B.C., café were forced to cancel their event after being inundated with hate and threats, including a phone call from someone who threatened to “shoot up the place and everyone in it.”
“Our show has been running for the last three years, with absolutely zero complaints or concern from anyone in the community,” a spokesperson for the event told CBC News. “It’s frightening to be reminded that there are people out there that wish you didn’t exist, that wish they could harm you—especially during Pride month.”
Since then, Ontario libraries in Pembroke, Pickering, Orillia and Whitby—as well as libraries in Dorval, Quebec, and Calgary, Alberta,—have received a large number of negative comments for holding Drag Queen Story Hour events.
But amid the rising anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate, some Canadian communities are seeing increasingly vocal support for these types of events. Last week, dozens of people turned up at Nicholls Family Library in southwest Calgary to ensure a planned drag queen reading function was able to operate safely.
“Drag has evolved from a diverse form of expression, it has also become an art form, which we encapsulate into this program,” Sumit Munjal, Calgary Pride’s manager of production and programming, told CBC News. “The idea is to create avenues of conversation and open up the dialogue of gender and gender expression. The things that we didn’t see growing up for ourselves, we want to create those avenues for kids growing up in this day and age.”