Police in Montgomery County, Maryland will attend drag queen story hours “in a peacemaker role” after a violent clash between members of the Proud Boys and pro-LGBTQ+ counter-protesters outside a Silver Spring bookstore last weekend.
On Saturday, February 18, a group of men wearing Proud Boys colors and symbols and carrying graphic signs shouted anti-LGBTQ+ slurs at families attending a drag queen story hour at Loyalty Bookstore in Silver Spring. Members of a local chapter of Parasol Patrol, a group that shields children and young people from anti-LGBTQ+ protesters using rainbow umbrellas, were also on hand to escort families into the bookstore. According to Montgomery County Council member Kristin Mink, who attended the event with Parasol Patrol volunteers, the counter-protesters far outnumbered the Proud Boys.
Despite police presence on Saturday, the members of the far-right hate group were able to physically clash with counter-protesters attempting to shield children from their hateful rhetoric and graphic signs.
“The PBs continued coming directly up to us the entire event, kicking & pushing on occasion, shouting at families on megaphones, trying to show explicit images to kids upon entry & exit,” Mink tweeted on Sunday, along with images of the confrontation outside the bookstore. “We held the line and drowned them out with music & cheers.”
Mink tweeted that the Proud Boys attempted to reach the doors of the bookstore, destroying counter-protesters’ rainbow umbrellas, kicking volunteers, and shoving one person’s head into the store’s window.
John Zittrauer, a Parasol Patrol volunteer, told The Washington Post that he was injured when the Proud Boys pushed against counter-protesters. He was unsure exactly how his nose was injured.
There were no arrests or official reports of injuries. Mink said she met with Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus G. Jones following the event to demand a more robust police response to anti-LGBTQ+ violence at future events.
“It’s unacceptable for us to be putting our residents in a place, in a situation that exposes them to violence like this,” Mink said.
On Monday, Jones released a statement saying that police would be present at future story hours “in a peacemaker role.”
“Officers will be on hand to ensure the safety of attendees and participants,” Jones said. “If protesters are present, we will make sure that there is distance between the two groups, so attendees are able to come and go safely without interference.”
Events like drag queen story hours, drag brunches, and Pride festivals have increasingly become targets for far-right and anti-LGBTQ+ groups across the country recently. Data from the Crowd Counting Consortium, which collects data on protests in the U.S., drag events accounted for less than one percent of Proud Boys protests before 2022. Since May 2022, they have risen to 36 percent. Last December, Vice News published a report that found that the violent, all-male, neo-fascist group’s involvement in anti-LGBTQ+ protests tripled in 2022 compared to 2021.
Despite the violence outside Loyalty Bookstore on Saturday, the drag story hour continued as planned.
“The kids had a full story time, and they had their full fun, and there is not an amount of hate that was equal to the amount of community,” the shop’s founder Hannah Oliver-Depp said.
On Twitter, the store’s official account tweeted images from the event, thanking members of Parasol Patrol and the local Drag Story Hour chapter for their intervention. “Yesterday afternoon Loyalty came under attack from hate groups who tried to force their way into our store during a Drag Queen Story Hour with physical violence. The incredible @parasolpatrol and the MoCo chapter of @DragStoryHour did wonders to not only push back and hold the safe space, but to keep cheering and singing joyfully in the face of hate speech and disgusting threats. Because of their efforts the children inside the store got to enjoy doing the Hokey Pokey, hearing beautiful books read aloud.”
Oliver-Depp said that the store plans to continue to hold drag story hour events.