A protest against a “Drag Queen Story Hour” event at Manly Library was drowned out by a large, colourful and peaceful counter-protest this morning, 25 February.
However, the library was completely closed an hour ahead of the event following a bomb threat made towards organisers – which was also sent directly to Manly Observer. We liaised with Police over the most appropriate reporting response and chose not to publicise the threat until now, after the event. The information, which included a claim of a bomb planted at the library to ‘kill all pedophiles’, has been provided to Police to investigate.
Police gave the all-clear for the event to proceed, closing the library to anyone without a ticket for the event itself.
The story hour, organised and paid for by Northern Beaches Council, was intended as an inclusive event, as part of World Pride, currently underway across Sydney. It is an event to show support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Manly Observer has been tracking public sentiment on the scheduled event over the last two weeks, with Manly-based influencer Dean Wells among the most vocal with a number of social media posts sharing his concerns that a Drag Queen reading to children was inappropriate. It is understood he lost his management contract over the social posts. A feud between Wells and the performer, Charisma Belle has continued over Instagram.
In our observations, however, the community response has been largely positive to the event. Then counter-protest was intended to ensure children attending today – and their parents – felt supported.
Overall there were about eight protesters and 80 counter-protestors. They included two women, one from Manly. They held signs declaring Drag Queens were inappropriate for kids, another shared conspiracy theories.
There was also a group of about five young men wearing masks who objected to the event and homosexuality in its entirety. One said he had travelled six hours to be here today. The men all gave undertakings they intended it to be a peaceful protest, which it was.
Counter-protestors responded by standing in front of the signs and applauding to drown out any negative comments.
Northern Beaches Council CEO Ray Brownlee said the event was simply offered to families wishing to take part in World Pride. “Drag Queen Storytime is being held outside of the standard early literacy weekday programming timetable and will celebrate family diversity, community and friendship,” he said.
“This event is being hosted by a professional performer, promoting a love of literacy through a creative and positive library experience.”
Drag Queen Storytimes have been successfully held in many places across Australia and overseas, to the delight of children and their families, he added.
“We pride ourselves on having a welcoming and inclusive community on the Northern Beaches and it is a shame to see some people from within and outside the Northern Beaches not being as tolerant and accepting of diversity.”
Counter-protestor Jules said when they had heard some protestors would cause a fuss at the reading, word quickly spread through the community that a welcoming group would be needed to drown out the negative. Jules said those concerned by the event had issues with a perceived ‘sexualized’ performer entertaining children.
“Well, I mean, drag performances can be sexual,” she said. “A lot of the time they are. But there’s also a whole lot of them that aren’t. And drag queens know how to change the act; like most performance artists, they know how to adjust the act.”
Jules continued, “Even for adult audiences, you will see an individual performer do a huge amount of different kinds of acts .. and what kind of content they do depends on the venue and who’s watching it…
“Nobody’s going to come in here [Manly Library] and do a burlesque striptease, it’s going be gentle – like fairy princess stuff – it’s going to be a drag performance that is appropriate for children.”
Today’s performer was Charisma Belle, who read My Shadow is Pink by Scott Stuart, and The Hips on the Drag Queen go Swish, Swish, Swish by Lil Miss Hot Mess.
Those who attended with their children report it being a fun and positive event.
“I took my son along. It was a lovely age appropriate event,” said local mum and Greens councillor Kristyn Glanville. “All the kids and adults had a ball singing, dancing, and listening to stories. There were far more supporters and well wishers than people to protest.”