NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — Anti-LGBTQ demonstrators gathered outside the Queens Public Library at Jackson Heights on Thursday to protest a Drag Story Hour event.
The roughly 30 demonstrators were met by about 150 counter protesters who stood between the anti-LGBTQ group to shield families attending the children’s reading event.
Drag Story Hour, is a non-profit that organizes storytelling and creative arts programs for children and teens.
Frankie Dascola, a New York City public school educator and an executive board member for Drag Story Hour New York City, told 1010 WINS she’s seen firsthand the positive impact the program can have.
“They have been absolute lights in my classroom and in our school community,” she said. “Whatever they are, whoever they are, they [the kids] can come and be their best self… I always tell my teachers, ‘if you come down, you will be seeing the students realizing their own truth and joy for the first time.’ That’s really what story hour gives people, that opportunity to celebrate themselves in the truest form they can.”
The organization has become a flash point for anti-gay and anti-trans activists across the country, and events held in New York City have faced protests with increasing frequency.
Some on the anti-LGBTQ side of Thursday’s demonstration sported Proud Boys clothing, and one carried a Proud Boys flag.
The Proud Boys are a fascist gang and hate group infamous for political violence and their alleged role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
One man wearing a skull bandana around his face performed Nazi salutes and shouted white supremacist slogans.
On the counter protesters side of the street, the atmosphere was half protest, half carnival.
Families joined demonstrators in singing pop songs, children played with bubbles and chalk and supporters wore colorful outfits.
Families arriving for the Drag Story Hour event were escorted inside by counter protesters who shielded children from the view of the anti-LGBTQ demonstrators.
Dozens of police officers stood in the street between the two groups.
Allison Marino, the president of the board of DSH NYC, told 1010 WINS protests against their events are becoming more frequent and intense.
“It’s really been just the past couple of months, maybe since the summer, that we are seeing the frequency and size of protests that we are now,” said Marino. “Almost every one of our events has some people showing up that are vocally and visibly unhappy with the fact that our program is taking place.”
To Marino, the conflicts unfolding in New York City are just one part of growing anti-gay and anti-trans sentiment across the country.
“What you're seeing across the country that is showing up against Drag Story Hours, that is showing up against trans and LGBTQ folks in general is very much being parrotted here,” she said. “You’re very much seeing all of the crazy conspiracy blown out of proportion.”
As vitriol against queer people and DSH has become more intense, Bella Noche, a drag queen who has worked as a storyteller for DSH NYC for over five years, started receiving death threats.
The first threats came after she was named in a New York Post story, she told 1010 WINS.
“I’ve gotten death threats on my Instagram,” she said. “Someone found my phone number and left me a scathing voicemail and said if I did it again they were going to come and send me to hell personally. Stuff like that. Even if you disagree, It shouldn’t come to that.”
Despite the harassment the organization and its associates regularly face, Marino is grateful for continued institutional support from the city.
City Council members have promised continued funding for the program and libraries have pledged to continue hosting, according to Marino.
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Councilmembers Shekar Krishnan, Erik Bottcher, and Crystal Hudson released a joint statement in support of the program on Thursday.
“In recent months, anti-LGBTQIA+ protesters have descended on these family events, attempting to get into our libraries to disrupt them while shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs at performers and attendees,” wrote the council members. “They have also vandalized the homes of three members of this City Council who support Drag Story Hour.”
“Hate in all its pernicious forms, including attacks on our LGBTQIA+ communities, have no place in our city and must be unequivocally condemned,” they continued. “We stand with New Yorkers gathering today in Jackson Heights to confront hate and defend families reading with their children.”