How drag queen readings became a target of the far right in England

In footage shared online, anti-extremist Michael Chaves is seen attacking parents – some of whom are carrying children – arriving at Drag Queen Story Hour UK, an event where books promoting empathy and inclusion are read to children. Chavez goes on to falsely accuse Sap Samuel, who was performing that day as drag queen Aida HD, of having pedophilia. CNN has reached out to Chaves for comment; did not answer.

As protesters held a banner that read: “Hello, shepherds” outside the library, two women pretending to be present disrupted reading inside the building, calling Samuel an “adult artist” because they frightened parents and children in the process, according to Samuel. . Samuel said that at least one mother was seen crying after the incident.

The term “groomer” is an anti-gay stereotype used to falsely defame homosexuals and their supporters as pedophiles.

At the end of the session, Samuel left the library with police protection while protesters hurled abuse.

Recent angry confrontations over events involving queens in the UK follow a disturbing precedent from the US, where far-right groups have ambushed similar events and conservative politicians have vowed to criminalize adults who take children to drag shows.
It has coincided with a broader movement to restrict rights to bodily autonomy, from access to abortion to gender affirming care, punctuated by a wave of anti-LGBT bills and Justice Clarence Thomas questioning marriage equality as the US Supreme Court struck down the law. Federal Right to Abortion in the United States.

Samuel, founder of Drag Queen Story Hour UK, told CNN: “This is the same hate (as seen in the US) but in a different context… the same disgust, the same homophobia, transphobia.”

Extremist groups in Britain are now feeling emboldened amid “a broader pushback against (queer) identities that exist in public spaces,” according to Tim Squirrel, an expert on online extremism and director of communications at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD).

“Even people who are reasonably ahead in their beliefs and politics have become quite radical[in their opposition to] That thing, which really worries me, is not least the actual danger to gay people out there, but in the United States, we’ve seen it relate to a much broader attempt to roll back gay rights.”

Activists said resistance against LGBT rights in the UK has taken a huge toll on transgender people, with so-called critical gender activists and a sympathetic British press curtailing efforts to facilitate transgender change.

The contest for leadership in Britain’s Conservative Party has seen hopefuls embrace anti-transgender rhetoric, promising policies that would stifle the rights of transgender people.

Transgender people may be left out of plans to ban conversion therapy in the UK, while some religious and other anti-transgender groups are campaigning against the teaching of what they call “gender ideology”, or information about the presence of transgender and non-binary identities, in school.

Drag queens have also been a target of some feminists, who criticize them for what they see as a satirical depiction of women and for being excessively sexual.

difficult expectations

Samuels, who plays Aida H Dee on Drag Queen Story Hour, told CNN that some of the event's young attendees find
The culture of drag has always centered around gay people, challenging traditional expectations and beliefs about the ways in which people of all races and sexual orientations express themselves.

Samuel said that was what inspired him to leave his job in marketing and start Drag Queen Story Hour UK three years ago. He said he wanted to provide children with diverse role models that he was not old enough. But he says death threats soon followed, and Samuel said that in 2020 he and a friend moved home because anti-LGBT trolls “discovered where I live.”

He said last week’s accident had pushed him over the edge.

Speaking to CNN, Samuel vehemently denied accusations that children who attend his shows are being subjected to sexual language. He said what he’s doing is a public good.

Samuel, who is autistic and has ADHD, provided an example from the event in reading why he sees the hours of the story so important. “Some children with autism and their parents have come to see me precisely because they know I have autism,” he said. When some of the younger attendees realized his drag queen character, Aida HD, was a play on ADHD, a condition they also suffer, their faces lit up, he said.

He continued, “I could see the sparks in their synapses firing with joy… (They were thinking) that this person was amazing and like me.”

However, as the Queen’s protests against the clouds escalate, analysts are increasingly concerned about the hateful extremist rhetoric surrounding them.

Joe Ondrac, the head of investigations at Logic Threat Intelligence, said Monday’s protest in Reading included anti-Chávez vaccination campaigners as well as members of the sovereign citizen group Alpha Main, the anti-government.

The term sovereign citizens emerged from the United States, according to Hope Not Hate. It is based on the belief that government institutions are fraudulent and followers do not have to abide by them. The FBI observed that sovereign citizens operate in loosely affiliated networks without constant leadership.

The anti-extremist group Hope I Don’t Hate described Alpha Men as an “attempt to establish a hardline group of activists and attracted the participation of a number of far-right individuals”.

The group has received significant media attention in recent months over concerns that it was developing into an American-style private militia through its alleged recruitment of ex-war veterans and military training sessions. CNN was unable to reach the group for comment because it went to the ground after media and government scrutiny.
A coffee shop in Illinois was vandalized with hate speech before a raffle show
Ondrac worries that the conspiracy groups, which have gained a large following during the pandemic, are now pivoting toward LGBTQ goals using “groomer” narratives.

“I honestly thought what would happen next[is]some kind of opposition towards the green energy transition, but that kind of opposition got out of the public discourse – so unfortunately, the queer community became their target,” he said.

CNN has watched no fewer than four anti-fax Telegram channels, including one with over 17,000 followers, publish posts and flyers to protest the Drag Queen Story Hour.

When asked why groups that appear to facilitate hate speech are allowed to operate on its platform, a Telegram spokesperson said: “Telegram is a free speech platform where people are welcome to peacefully express their opinions, including those with whom we disagree.” “Posts that glorify or encourage violence or its perpetrators are expressly prohibited under Telegram’s terms of service and are being removed by our moderators,” the spokesperson added.

As for the white nationalist groups that attended the protests, such as the National Alternative, ISD’s Squirrel described them as “deeply anti-gay.”

He said they believed that “whites are being systematically replaced by non-white people in Western countries”. They say a “mysterious gang of Jews” encourages whites to adopt queer identities as a way to lower the white birth rate – views rooted in neo-Nazi ideology – Scorel added.

In response to a CNN request for comment, a Patriotic Alternative spokeswoman said: “Drag Queens are often very sexual caricatures of women and we believe that children should be allowed to enjoy their childhood and should not be subject to gay indoctrination.”

Two days after the events in Reading, in the northern English town of Crewe, members of the Patriot Alternative staged a sit-down at a bookstore that was hosting the UK’s Drag Queen Story Hour. The group leader later promised more demonstrations against Samuel’s summer tour of dozens of bookstores across the country.

The protests continued last Thursday, when Samuel visited bookshops in Bristol, a city in southwest England known for its liberal stances.

Rosie, a local mother who asked CNN not to use her last name out of fear for her safety, told CNN that she decided to take her young daughter to the event because she thought it was important to learn about inclusivity and different communities.

“I love drag queens, I think it’s fun, it’s art, it’s a laugh, and something different that includes books and stories,” she said.

But Rosie said she wasn’t prepared for the vitriol she faced at the library, as protesters waved “Stop childcare” signs and a line of police drove parents into the building. At least one mother was crying inside as protesters played the theme song of the British TV show “Jim Will Fix It,” whose late host was a notorious child sexual abuser, over speakers outside the library.

“It was just horrible. I was expecting it to be a happy thing, considering it was the pride two weeks ago in Bristol.” Instead, she said, the harassment of protesters was “too backward and (I feel) naive to think that there is any progress.”

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