For months, anti-LGBT protesters have demonstrated outside Drag Queen Story Hour, a series of children’s library events hosted by drag queens. Online, those protesters have found support from a series of far-right chat groups that coordinate harassment.
The premise of Drag Queen Story Hour is simple: kids visit the library to read picture books with drag performers. Full of princess dresses and sing-a-longs, the events are a hit with kids. Less so with some members of the religious right, who’ve shouted anti-LGBT slogans from bullhorns outside the events. But the campaigns don’t stop at the library doors. On the messaging app Telegram, extremists have encouraged harassment against Story Hour participants, and even established channels dedicated to collecting the personal information on people who attend, known as doxxing.
One Telegram post, authored by a well-known neo-Nazi, encourages followers to collect information like license plate numbers for parents who attend the story hours, and share them on white supremacist channels. It’s unclear whether the calls for doxxing have materialized at the protests.
The post was shared across multiple extremist channels, including one exclusively dedicated to exposing the personal information of people who attend the free library event. The channel encouraged targeting specific events, as well as culling Facebook information on people who responded favorably to posts about the story hours.
The campaigns are the opposite of the tolerant message Drag Queen Story Hour promotes.
“Visibility is huge for LGBTQ young people, especially when they see positive representations of LGBTQ people out in their community doing good things,” said Kevin Wong, spokesperson for the LGBT youth advocacy organization the Trevor Project.
All children can benefit from seeing positive representations of LGBT people in their communities, Wong told The Daily Beast.
“Any positive visibility helps people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, even if they’re straight or cisgender, to learn more about other folks,” he said. “We know that supportive people can help reduce the risk of discrimination and suicide for LGBTQ people.”
Some of the anti-story hour campaigns have succeeded in forcing the cancellation of the event. In Warren County, New Jersey this month, two days of “nonstop” phone calls pressured a library into calling off its Drag Queen Story Hour.
Meanwhile in Brooklyn, a story hour continued as scheduled while anti-LGBT protesters yelled outside the library.
“A drag queen reading stories is child abuse,” one protester yelled into a megaphone. “We don’t want to teach them that they can be anything they want.”
Some corners of the right have created a feedback loop of hate around the Drag Queen Story Hours, with extremists generating new calls for violence based on some conservative media coverage of the protests.
This weekend, the Daily Caller published an article about a law enforcement team with guns monitoring an anti-story hour protest in Spokane, Washington. The SWAT team might have been responding to incidents at previous protests, including arrests of an armed anti-LGBT demonstrator at a story hour in Texas this year, the arrest of a protester who charged on an event in Maryland this month, and recent threats against a North Carolina event.
But white supremacist Telegram channels that picked up the Daily Caller story used it as evidence that law enforcement were preparing to shoot Christian mothers at the children’s library event. Some suggested bringing violence and sniper teams of their own to the events.
The current protests outside the libraries are worrying enough.
“When people see that their sexual orientations, or their gender identities, or their communities are ‘up for debate,’ it can have a negative impact on the mental health of those people,” Wong said, citing a spike in crisis calls to the Trevor Project after President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender people serving in the military.