Today, our little community library held a drag queen story hour in celebration of pride month. These events are meant to teach about diversity and inclusion. These events have been under attack across the country by anti-LGBTQ+ religious and political groups. To date, a federal court has dismissed a case brought by these groups in an attempt to end these events. When the event was posted on social media, non-local people quickly started in with unfounded ad-hominem attacks and appeals to morality, provoking locals to join in. The local newspaper picked up the story and inadvertantly stirred the pot through the comments on their own pages and on social media, creating a huge amount of anti-LGBTQ+ backlash online and promises of a protest. Our local queer community mobilized a welcome counter-protest to shield the children and families attending from the expected vitriol and who-knows-what-else. We agreed ahead of time to come from a place of love, to not engage with protesters, and to maintain a positive and welcoming atmosphere. Although activism is rampant in our greater community, our LGBTQ+ community is very small, we have not had much opportunity to represent ourselves in our own hometown amidst the current political climate of anti-LGBTQ+ backlash.
At today’s event, 3-5 protestors showed up and over 30 members and allies of the LGBTQ community showed up. Our group agreed ahead of time to keep the counter-protest very positive and to focus on welcoming the families. One of the protesters had a very provocative (not to mention assumptive and offensive) sign that read “Yesterday: Normalize Homosexuality, Today: Normalize Transgender, Tomorrow: Normalize Pedophilia” and had a hand-drawn picture of a clown in reference to the Drag performer doing the reading. One of our group had a very long conversation with this person, without engaging his comments that were meant to slander, disparage, or otherwise provoke a defensive reaction. He listened and answered each of the protestors’ grievances. After the protestor left, he told me that he felt that he got through to that person… that this person had expressed that social changes are moving too fast for him. He is a young white male stuck in the legacy of poverty from the economic decline that has taken place over the course of his own lifetime. He was not protesting from a religious standpoint. He feels that all of the attention toward minorities and lack of values in our country are synonymous, and he doesn’t know where his place is in today’s world. He even admitted to voting for our current president, but being severely disappointed that the campaign promises of taking care of his own group (disenfranchised white men) have not come true. He is the epitome of the conservative and libertarian thinking of our community. As I spoke to the member from our group, I was again reminded of the power of listening and why sometimes it is better to not engage. This young man would have never been able to hear himself through a woman/femme-identified or person he perceives as a woman. He probably would not have heard himself through a conversation with a young man of his age who did not agree with him. The benefit of this conversation was due to the patience and experience of an older man, whom he could respect and did not view as a threat.
Two other protestors intermittently tried to push toward the front of the line next to the entrance for the event and were persistent in putting their signs above our heads, and in front of us, but each time we moved in front of them with balloons and kept up the positive and welcoming atmosphere. At one point, I asked one of the people to please not hit me on the head with his sign, and he went back to the opposite side of the “free speech area”. The lesson I gleaned from this was that of non-resistance… allowing the momentum of an attack to carry itself forward while stepping out of the way and maintaining the values, boundaries, and energy that we bring to a situation.
I am proud of our community today… Nearly 14 years ago, I experienced homophobia on a level in this community that scared me enough to go back into the closet as a single parent. It took several years for me to come out again, and even longer to find the community here because of the need for safety in a traditionally conservative community. We haven’t had a chance to show up and represent ourselves in this community since I moved here. That chance was afforded us today. Today we showed up with grace, love, and compassion that neutralizes and positively overcomes the oppressive vitriol that our community still faces.