CANADA Libraries in Canada hit by hate and threats as...

Libraries in Canada hit by hate and threats as right-wing groups protest drag events for all ages

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The drag-and-drop event at the Saint John Free Public Library was one of several similar events at libraries across Canada that were the target of online hate this month. (Contributed by Blair Richardson)

Family drag events across Canada, many hosted by municipal libraries, have been the target of a flurry of hateful comments and threats during Pride month, sparking multiple police investigations and renewed concerns about the safety of the LGBT community.

More than half a dozen libraries and drag performers from St. John’s to Victoria have reported being bombarded online and by phone with homophobic slurs and, in some cases, threats of violence.

Drag Story Hour events are popular in many libraries around the country, and typically feature a drag artist reading children’s books about inclusion. They are often held in cooperation with local LGBTQ associations and have generated only minor controversy in the past.

But amid a surge in anti-LGBT rhetoric and politics in the US, and a conservative movement in Canada increasingly influenced by right-wing politicians south of the border, anti-LGBT events have turned into hot spots of anger.

The city of Dorval, a suburb of Montreal, received a wave of complaints in early June when it announced that its library was hosting a story hour with a well-known local Barbadian performer.

“We received hate mail. We have received threats. You name it – we got it,” said Sebastian Gauthier, a spokesman for the city.

Drag artists Jessica Rabid (left) and Farrah Nuff (right) were among the two dozen supporters who came to Calgary last week to advocate drag storytelling for all ages. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

In the comments, library staff were accused of aiding pedophiles and threatened with lawsuits, among other things. Their personal information was also shared on the Internet.

“We also received more troubling threats related to activities per se, people threatening to come and do this or that during the event,” Gauthier said.

Montreal police patrolled the June 11 event without incident and began investigating the threats.

“I have been working in the city for almost 20 years. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gauthier said.

An all-ages drag show in Victoria was canceled in mid-June after a cafe that was supposed to host received a slew of threatening phone calls.

“Our show has been running for three years now and no one in the community has absolutely no complaints or concerns,” said a spokesperson for For the Love of Drag, who were due to perform.

A spokesperson asked CBC News not to be named due to ongoing security concerns.

Online hate against libraries in Canada has come amid a surge in anti-LGBTQ and police rhetoric in the US. Earlier this month, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, arrested 31 men for conspiring to riot at a Pride event. (Northern country offline/Youtube/Reuters)

“It’s scary to remember that there are people who want you gone, who want to hurt you, especially in Pride Month,” the spokesperson said in an email exchange.

A police investigation did not address the incident as a hate crime and no charges were filed, but a restraining order was issued against one person, a spokeswoman said.

Libraries in Pembroke, Ontario, Pickering, Ontario, Orillia, Ontario, and Calgary also confirmed receiving a lot of negative comments for hosting their own Drag Story Hour events this month.

Ontario police said they were actively investigating the Pembroke incident but declined to provide further details.

Groups associated with the convoy

The outburst of hatred seems to have different sources. In Saint John, for example, former and up-and-coming Canadian People’s Party candidates were among those who circulated misleading images on their social media accounts to suggest that the local library’s story hour event earlier this month was not age appropriate.

One image was from a US burlesque show in 2019, the other from an adult drag performance in April.

The posts sparked a long string of hateful comments about performer Alex Saunders, whose drag character is Justin Toodeep.

“We read a couple of books about a prince and a knight falling in love, and then a couple of books about the different types of families you could see,” Saunders said of the all-ages event in June.

On several occasions, groups and social media accounts associated with Freedom Convoy called on supporters to protest Drag Story Hour events. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Saunders says they sent more than 40 pages of commentary screenshots to St. John police, including one saying it was time to “light the torches” and another calling for Saunders and a colleague to be burned alive.

Saunders says they were told there was not enough evidence of a direct threat to file charges.

“[It has been] very scary and weird, and I was really trying to put on a manly face for my community, but I had a full blown, crying, I didn’t want to leave the house,” Saunders said.

Alex Saunders, aka Justin Toodeep, is helping host a drag story at St. John’s Free Public Library on June 5th. (Contributed by Alex Saunders)

The public library in Pickering said it received a wave of homophobic and transphobic comments both by phone and online following an article and video report by True North, a right-wing media outlet founded by former Conservative MP Candace Malcolm.

On True North’s Facebook page, posts about the event received more than a dozen homophobic comments, many of which accused the drag performers of pedophilia, a longstanding move of anti-LGTBK rhetoric.

On several occasions, groups and social media accounts associated with Freedom Convoy called on supporters to protest Drag Story Hour events.

Stand4Thee, the anti-vaccine mandate group that supported the blockade in Ottawa, urged members several times last month to contact libraries hosting drag events.

In posts on Telegram, the messaging app, the group says the events “indoctrinate our children” and are “disgusting twisted filth.” Their posts were featured on the Convoy to Ottawa 2022 channel, one of the largest groups on the app used by convoy supporters.

Members of Calgary Freedom Central — a Telegram channel with nearly 9,000 subscribers that helped mobilize support for the truck blockade in Ottawa and Coutts, Altama this winter — used the insults as they tried to mobilize opposition at an event last week in the Calgary ward. Public Library.

The members suggested a physical confrontation to show the performers that they were “not welcome” in Calgary. Another user suggested confronting parents who brought their children to the event.

As with many online forums, comments on Calgary Freedom Central often use the term “groomer” to describe drag performers or library staff running events.

The smear, stemming from the unsubstantiated stereotype that LGBTQ people are involved in pedophilia, is growing in popularity among right-wing groups in the US, where protests disrupted several drag story events this month.

When Calgary’s LGBT community became aware of the negative online chatter, about 25 community members and their supporters came to the Story Hour event last week to prevent disruption.

“I want to make sure kids and artists are protected as much as possible,” said Farrah Nuff, a drag performer who attended the event at the Nicholls Family Library.

Despite the threats, the officials of the municipal libraries that host such events insist on their importance and assure them that they will not be intimidated.

Bessie Sullivan, CEO of the Orillia Public Library, said she never considered canceling the event, although callers threatened to fire her, among other things.

“They pissed me off,” Sullivan said. “Actually, what we did when it intensified was I added a second time to the story.”

Library staff in Pembroke say they have received a slew of threatening calls and emails, some promising dozens of protesters to disrupt their hour-long event.

Karti Rajamani, the general manager of the library, was so concerned that she contacted the police and gave her employees additional safety briefings. But like Sullivan, she never considered canceling the event.

“Libraries are community leaders. We must be an example of inclusion and diversity,” Rajamani said.

In the end, no one showed up to protest in Pembroke. The event was attended by a large number of people, and according to Rajamani, residents applauded the library for hosting it. Several other librarians expressed similar sentiments.

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