White nationalists and anti-vaxxers protested at 90% of all-ages drag shows in the last year

Drag Queen Story Hour has been relentlessly targeted

A Drag Queen Story Hour performance

A new report has highlighted the scale of far-right mobilisation against all ages drag shows in the UK. The report – from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) – found that 57 events took place in the year from June 2022 and that 51 of these were met with protests from a range of groups including white nationalists and anti-vaxxers.

That means that almost 90% of all these events saw mobilisations from the far right or conspiracy theorists. Ten events were cancelled ahead of time as a result of abuse and the risk of danger to attendees and staff.

The majority of protests took place at Drag Queen Story Hour events. Drag Queen Story Hour is an event where a drag performer reads books and tells stories to an audience of children. Over the past year, these events have taken place in libraries across the country.

According to ISD, events have seen protests in which parents taking their children to Drag Queen Story Hour have been subject to verbal abuse and harassment. At events in Reading and Blackpool, protesters were able to enter the library and abuse the performer. In addition to this, protesters have been found to have called libraries and emailed local councillors in an effort to pressure events to be cancelled.

The report highlights that the groups involved with these protests have sought to build two anti-LGBT+ narratives around their campaigns. First, to associate drag performers with paedophilia, and second, to suggest drag performers are seeking to indoctrinate children into a ‘transgender agenda’.

Among the groups to have been involved in protests are the white nationalist, neo-Nazi organisation Patriotic Alternative, right wing student group Turning Point UK, and the Patriotic Alternative splinter group Independent Nationalist Network. High profile right wingers such as GB News hosts Laurence Fox and Calvin Robinson have participated in protests, as has the conspiracy theorist Piers Corbyn.

In its concluding remarks, ISD argues that mobilisations against drag events are part of a wider pattern of anti-LGBT+ campaigns in the UK. The report reads: “This activity cannot be viewed as separate from wider anti-LGBTQ+ mobilisation in the UK. The 2023 ILGA-Europe report cited a lack of movement by the UK government on banning conversion therapy and reforming the gender recognition process. Widespread media coverage given to anti-trans rhetoric in the UK in recent years, as well as the number of high-profile UK based campaigners associated with the movement, has been claimed to give the UK an international reputation as an unfriendly place for trans people.”

The report also highlights how Tory politicians have contributed to hostility towards drag events. It notes: “In February 2023, the Conservative Party’s Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson discussed a strategy of leaning in to “culture wars” in the next election, signifying further political emphasis being put on exploiting these issues.”

Elsewhere, the report says: “Notably, the events in 2023 have also drawn the attention of several Conservative Party MPs and Peers.

“In January 2023, Conservative Party peer Emma Nicholson described a [Drag Queen Story Hour] event due to take place in the Tate Britain the following month as “propaganda”. In an open letter, she also questioned whether “murderers, paedophiles, terrorists, furries and other fetishists” would be providing entertainment and said that “advocates for queer ideology” were “not appropriate role models for young children.”

“In March, Conservative MP Sara Britcliffe tweeted about a [Drag Queen Story Hour] event due to take place at a literary festival in Lancashire, calling it “inappropriate” and urging the organisers to cancel it, which they did due to “safety concerns.

“A month later, Nick Fletcher, Conservative MP for Don Valley, said that “serious questions” had to be answered about a “Glam camp” for children that took place over the Easter holidays in Doncaster. The event was described by the organisers as allowing children to create “a performance make-up look, sewing fashion garments and showcasing singing and drama talents.” Fletcher criticised the use of taxpayer money in hosting the event and said that he didn’t “see any reason” for it.”

Responding to the report, Robbie de Santos, director of external affairs at Stonewall, told the Guardian: “Many LGBTQ+ people in the UK are living in fear as far-right activism grows and gains legitimacy from mainstream political and press support. Protesting drag queens is only part of a picture that also includes attacks on LGBTQ+-inclusive education in schools and ongoing attempts to row back well-established rights.”

One individual who participated in a protest at a Drag Queen Story Hour event received a 12 month community order after being convicted of hate crimes.

Despite the scale of mobilisations against drag events, the report also highlights that in most instances, counter protests in support of the events and of LGBT+ rights have been far larger than the anti-LGBT+ protests.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue is an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to safeguarding human rights and reversing the rising tide of polarisation, extremism and disinformation worldwide.

Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward

Image credit: YouTube

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