‘Are we pretending to be sitting ducks?’ Local drag performers are voicing their safety concerns over the upsurge in threats.

On June 11, members of the far-right group Proud Boys allegedly hurled homophobic slurs at a California library’s story time, sparking a hate crime investigation. At a story time in Sparks, Nevada, on June 26, protesters, including one carrying a gun, sent a library into lockdown.

In the Boston area, some dragsters say they have been harassed, causing them to fear for their safety.

“Every time there is a promotion [for events], especially with kids, I’m afraid we’re creating a dangerous situation,” said Quyen Tran, who played drag king Jayden Jamison in Boston and Beyond for 17 years. “Now because we have to worry about these hate groups out there, are we sitting ducks?”

Drag queen Sham Payne interacts with a performer in a dinosaur costume in the children’s section of the Chelsea Public Library after a Drag Story Hour last month.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Drag performer Alli T., who asked to have her last name removed to protect her children, has been hosting storytimes in Massachusetts since 2016. The events, open to everyone, provide spaces for parents and children to hear and learn more about LGBTQ+ people. Alli said many gay participants also told them after story hours that they felt supported in those settings.

However, these efforts come at a price. Earlier this year, photos of Alli’s young children were posted on social media and on a far-right blog disparaging drag performers as “sexually deviant”. Alli also deleted his TikTok account because their details were leaked online and left their neighborhood Facebook group after being harassed.

Local threats prompted several Boston-area groups to cancel storytimes throughout June, Alli said, and some drag colleagues began to avoid public transportation to avoid being followed.

“It’s crazy to me that there are adults who say there’s a danger in dragsters reading to kids, and they themselves don’t see the danger they pose when they show up. to shout insults at children and their families or take pictures of children without their consent,” Alli said. “None of these people care about the safety of children. They care about rooting out gay people.

On June 25, during a story hour sponsored by the Holbrook Public Library, organizers had to move the children in attendance and the drag performer after Republican candidate for Secretary of State Rayla Campbell disrupted the event. In a video posted to his official Facebook page, Campbell confronted and shouted at attendees as parents and organizers shielded children with Pride flags and umbrellas.

“I was like, ‘We’re going to do a little parade,’ just to get the kids away from this negativity, from the disruption,” said Kimberly Usselman, director of the library. “I was hoping nothing would happen, but I was also prepared for it.”

It’s a trend that, according to Harvard professor Michael Bronski, who has studied LGBTQ+ politics since the 1960s, is the “latest manifestation of anti-LGBTQ visibility” after years of growing acceptance and legal rights. Rise in anti-drag sentiment comes as more states pass legislation that limits discussions of sexuality in schools and the participation of transgender students in sports.

“The reality is that [conservative] the fighting is now so fierce because they are clearly losing the cultural battle, even though they may be winning some political battles,” Bronski said. “In people’s minds, transvestites, transvestites and transgender people – all of which are completely different categories – are, in many ways, the least visibly acceptable groups of LGBT people…and the most vulnerable in terms of of public support.”

Neil Eaton, a clergyman and grandfather from Plymouth, says some in his community oppose drag performers in libraries because they think drag of any kind is “inappropriate” for children.

“Everyone has dignity, worth and worth, but we don’t have to be okay with behaviors, especially since our children are going to be exposed to things their minds don’t. is unprepared,” Eaton said.

Storytime hosts say that drag isn’t inherently sexual or racy, and that these children’s performance is age-appropriate. Many events feature sing-alongs of popular childhood anthems like Verna Hills’ “Wheels on the Bus” and stories about crayons and animals, activities that performers say differ significantly from nightlife. events.

“We all do things that we wouldn’t do in front of children in our lives, and that doesn’t mean we’re a danger to children,” said Patrick Burr, who directs the Boston chapter of National History. Drag Queen. Hosted an hour and canceled an appearance as Patty Bourrée at a local library after a backlash last month. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s about content – ​​it’s about being morally against drag performers.

Drag queens Just JP, left, and Sham Payne read stories to children during a Drag Story Hour at the Chelsea Public Library on June 25, 2022.
Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Just JP, a Latinx performer who was Mx. Gay Boston 2022 and asked to wear his drag name in this story for security reasons, started doing story hours five years ago. Raised in El Salvador, JP said he grew up without gay role models and turned to drag as a mode of expression.

“I want to give the opportunity for families and children to have those examples that I didn’t have growing up,” JP said. “I want to give kids the opportunity to see someone who’s bright and fun and happy, and that person happens to be queer, happens to be an immigrant, someone with a beard who still wears makeup.”

Like JP, many fear that threats and disruptions will negatively impact attendees. Farouqua Abuzeit, director of youth services at the Boston Public Library, said the library has steadily tightened security at story times since it began hosting them in 2016. Negative posts traditionally come from people outside the state, Abuzeit added, but they have seen more. inside Massachusetts this year.

Grace Stowell, executive director of the Boston Alliance of LGBTQ+ Youth, worries that what she called a “specific and coordinated attack from the right” could exacerbate pandemic-related feelings of isolation among young queer people. The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group for LGBTQ+ children, found that 73% of LGBTQ+ students reported feelings of anxiety in 2022.

“We’ve seen a surge and an increase in the number of young people seeking behavioral health and mental health support services to the extent that the need exceeds the availability,” Stowell said.

JP added that artists from marginalized backgrounds, such as trans or BIPOC artists, often face additional hostility and have “more reasons why they can become targets”.

The opposition has extended beyond the hours of history. An ‘Over the Rainbow’ dance for teenagers in Newburyport has been postponed after some community members protested AJ Parker, a drag performer, DJing the event.

Several performers said they viewed the recent attacks as a distraction from issues such as gun violence and climate change and feared the public antagonism would only worsen. Although Massachusetts bias liberal and with strong anti-discrimination laws, Bronski said local LGBTQ+ communities are not immune to growing hostility from the right.

“It’s very easy to live in a blue bubble,” he said, “and in Boston we’re so used to the privilege of feeling safe that often we just don’t see these crimes being committed or don’t not recognize them as a reality.


Anjali Huynh can be reached at anjali.huynh@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anjalihuynh.