Despite temperatures topping out in the teens, a crowd of more than 200 came out Saturday to support the Drag Queen Story Time program at the Huntington Woods Public Library. After right wing fringe groups Mass Resistance and Warriors for Christ announced their intention to picket the program, the Metro Detroit Political Action Network and the Motor City Sisters planned a counter-protest.
The original protest was small and only a handful of people – fewer than 10 – in attendance appeared to have a problem with the program. Still, armed with a megaphone, they made their position known.
“Drag queens are going to burn in hell for all eternity,” the lone speaker declared early on in the demonstration. “And all of you who condone such things are going to burn in hell.”
The protesters spewed their hate from a position on the sidewalk, while the pro-drag queen crowd, literally separated by a short wall, took over a side parking lot. The crowd split in two when parents began arriving with their children, and literally blocked the protesters from view as the families walked through the parking lot with friendly faces on both sides cheering them on. To drown out the protesters’ message, the counter-demonstrators played “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, along with the “Barney & Friends” theme song. However, despite even those efforts, the hate messages were impossible to miss and clearly designed to shock.
“Raise your hand if you’re a pedophile,” the man with the megaphone shouted out at one point. “Perverts, indecent perverts, you people need to get right with God. You should be ashamed of yourselves today.”
But no one in the colorful crowd of supported appeared to be. Instead, they chanted back “love not hate” over and over.
“I think they underestimated this community and its values,” said Ben Falik, who lives in Huntington Woods. “They picked the fight. We didn’t. But you can see by the ratio here today that their megaphone doesn’t really compare to all the diversity and solidarity that we’re seeing here.”
Falik said he strongly supported the program and had taken his daughter to it in the past.
“I think it’s a good program,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Eleven-year-old Jacob Apap, who also lives in Huntington Woods, identifies as transgender and, specifically, non-binary. Apap demonstrated with their mother carrying a sign that read, “Put the rainbow in reading.”
“I think they’re so desperate to feel important that they’re willing to disrupt a community that they’re not even a part of,” Apap said. “I think Drag Queen Story Time is really good and it also enforces the idea that being different isn’t something to be ashamed of.”
Apap’s mother, Deb Kovsky, said their family is Jewish and was just coming from synagogue.
“Normally, we would not do this on shabbat,” Kovsky said. “But this is important enough. I didn’t want anyone to see this on the news and not see a huge turnout in support of our kids, our community and this program.”
Jean Harrick and Karen Porter came all the way from Jackson. Both have children who are LGBTQ.
“I’m a mama bear and I’m also a Christian and it upsets me that they are perverting my faith,” Harrick said. “My daughter is LGBT and she was just ordained as a minister. We’re very strong in our faith, but this upsets us that they’ve perverted it into hate.”
Porter said much of the same.
“Children are not born with hate. They are taught hate. So, seeing a drag queen, little kids are probably like, ‘oh cool, sparkles,’” Porter said.
Robert Jay is media director for MDPAN.
“Everybody has just been spectacular for this,” he said. “We were able to get a nice procession going so the parents and the kids didn’t have to come in spitting distance of any of the bigots, and that’s really what we were hoping for. We were able to drown out a lot of their hate speech with ‘Barney’ music. So, it was great. This was a huge, huge message that the community sent about how much we value each other.”
Sr. Estee Louder Harder Faster of the Motor City Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the other counter-demonstration co-sponsor, agreed.
“There was way much more of us than there was of them,” she said. “I think they got the point and if they didn’t, we’ll be here next time. I think so many people came out because there’s a shift in politics and in society, and people feel like they need to get out and do something to show their support and this is just one way of doing it.”
Inside the library, Raven Divine Cassadine, the drag queen who has been reading to the children since the program first started just over a year ago, estimated there were nearly 50 children with their parents taking part in the program.
“I think that it’s very important that we teach the importance of reading to children and acceptance for everyone regardless of race, sex or gender,” Cassadine said in a statement issued in the days leading up to the program.
Joyce Krom, youth services librarian and Cassadine’s partner in the program, was also quoted in the statement.
“The Huntington Woods Library is proud to offer carefully crafted early literacy programming,” Krom said. “Drag Queen Story Time is just one part of that programming. As we strive to support all children in our community, one of our top priorities is to be welcoming and inclusive, and always toward creating a more equitable society.”