Proud Boys Disrupt Drag Queen Story Time at San Lorenzo Library

On Saturday, June 11, a group of five men disrupted a children’s Drag Queen Story Hour at the San Lorenzo branch of the Alameda County Library, CA, shouting homophobic and transphobic insults. No one was injured, and library staff were able to move the children and their caregivers, as well as performer Panda Dulce, to a safe area of the library before members of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office arrived and led the intruders—believed by library administration and law enforcement to be members of the East Bay Proud Boys, a local far-right group—from the building.

exterior of San Lorenzo LibraryOn Saturday, June 11, a group of five men disrupted a children’s Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) at the San Lorenzo branch of the Alameda County Library, CA, shouting homophobic and transphobic insults. No one was injured, and library staff were able to move the children and their caregivers, as well as performer Panda Dulce, to a safe area of the library before members of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office arrived and led the intruders—believed by library administration and law enforcement to be members of the East Bay Proud Boys, a local far-right group—from the building. With recent incidents of gun violence across the United States on everyone’s minds, those present were deeply unsettled, Director Cindy Chadwick reported.

Library staff did not originally anticipate any conflict over the story time, part of the library’s Pride Month–themed programming. The 10-branch Alameda County Library is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region generally considered welcoming to LGBTQIA+ individuals and activities; the nonprofit DQSH organization originated in San Francisco in 2015. The week before, however, library administration had been warned about a mention of the program on the far-right, anti-LGBTQIA+ Twitter account Libs of TikTok, so Chadwick and Family Services Coordinator Andrea Davis made a point of attending.

Between 10 and 15 preschool-age children and their caregivers were at the story time, with six or seven library staff members. Not long after the event began, the men entered the program room and began verbally abusing the performer and staff, calling Dulce “tranny,” “pedophile,” and “groomer.” Accusations that LGBTQIA+ people are a threat to children have been increasingly used by activists opposed to increases in LGBTQIA+ rights and acceptance. Scientific studies offer no basis for these accusations, which are generally considered slurs in this context.

The intruders were loud and used rough language, said Chadwick. Although they did not physically interact with any of those present, one wore a t-shirt emblazoned with an AK-47 and the message, “Kill your local pedophile.”

“We were immediately really concerned that this could devolve into violence,” she told LJ. Staff brought the performer to a rear area, and Chadwick asked all caregivers and children to exit to the library’s main space.

Law enforcement arrived promptly and escorted the men off the library property. Two others, also wearing the yellow and black colors associated with the Proud Boys movement, shouted slurs from an adjacent property before they left as well.

“To their credit, the families stuck around,” said Chadwick, “and they even came back.” Dulce finished the story time presentation, reading Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne Lang.

 

COMMUNITY SUPPORT, MORE PRIDE EVENTS

While no one has been identified or charged as of press time, police are investigating the incident as a hate crime, and are looking at whether the men’s actions comprised “annoying or molesting” a child under 18, a violation of the California penal code. Several staff members filmed the disruption.

The library has presented several DQSH events in recent years without incident, although Chadwick recalled a protest four years ago that involved members of a local group praying quietly. “This was entirely different,” she said, “and we were really, really surprised by it.”

She has been heartened, though, by the warm response. The community Facebook page immediately called for more local Pride events, and Alameda County Supervisor Dave Brown offered to sponsor a monthly Pride program at the library for the next year. Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) tweeted about the incident, “We will not stand for this. And justice will flow like waters,” and will be visiting the library. Managers from other branches joined forces the following day to stand outside the library with posters of support.

Chadwick and Davis plan to meet with all library staff to debrief and have sent out information about mental health services available through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). They have reached out to Panda Dulce with messages and cards of support, and will also follow up with the families that were present. “The San Lorenzo staff are all still kind of in shock,” she said. “They have a very well-trained, very tight-knit staff, and I’m grateful for that. But we’re all shocked and hurt.”

The San Lorenzo Library currently employs one security guard on site, and Chadwick says the system has a strong relationship with local law enforcement. Alameda County Library has two more Pride-themed story times planned for June and the Sheriff’s Office plans to increase the presence of officers at the library during those events.

If there’s any positive outcome to the incident, Chadwick said, it’s the reminder of how critical LGBTQIA+ advocacy is, even in a place like the Bay Area. “We tend to think we don’t have to deal with this [prejudice]—it’s a very liberal, open community,” she told LJ. “Even here, this work is important.”

Dulce, she added, was one of the original founders of DQSH, and is an Ivy League–educated, experienced social worker whose work has appeared on NPR, VICE, HuffPost, FUSION, MTV, NBC, and them. “They picked the wrong drag queen if they're going to try to make someone out to be a pedophile or perverted in any way,” she said.

“They want us to shrink back into the closet, into obscurity, into the shadows,” Dulce told NBC News, “but clearly they have not met a drag queen before because drag queens do not do obscurity and queers do not do quiet.”

This will likely not be the last such incident in public libraries, Chadwick noted. She and her staff will continue to focus on the de-escalation techniques that she credits with having helped prevent a worse outcome, and she urges other libraries to prioritize de-escalation training. “I would also say to not back down or be intimidated by this—intimidation and intolerance have no place in the library,” she said. “We have to do so safely, and keep the safety of the staff and the public top of mind. But we can do that.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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