‘Sashay Your Bigotry Away’: Love Louder Than Hate as Anti-Drag Protest Backfires in Royal Oak

A small protest against Sidetrack Bookshop’s "Drag Queen Story Hour" was met with an enormous counterprotest supporting the event Saturday, March 11 in downtown Royal Oak. Police estimate there was a crowd of about 1,000 people outside the store, which opened last year. Only a small contingency of a dozen, maybe two, seemed to be against the story hour. The rest were loudly and colorfully in favor of it, carrying clever signs and repeatedly chanting “Bigots go home.”

Said bigots came to protest the innocuous event after the Oakland County Republican Party issued a news release encouraging them to do so. “Drag queen story time is an exercise in normalizing what is not normal,” read the release in part. “And it can be upsetting, scary and confusing to young children. … Adult sexuality introduced to a child — especially outside of the family unit — is not ‘playful’ or safely entertaining. It is at best inappropriate, and at worst, criminal.”

Of course, Sidetrack Bookshop owners Jenny Carney and Jen Brown didn’t see the event their store hosted as either.

At the event, Carney said drag queen story time is “this amazing celebration of being weird, and it’s for kids and so, to be able to offer that to other kids … and not just for the people with queer kids. You know, it’s for everybody to see.”

Carney said "Drag Queen Story Hour" is an “option, so that everybody can see a celebration of people being their authentic selves. It’s really important to us.”

Sidetrack Bookshop, located on the northeast corner of South Washington Avenue and East Fourth Street, packed sidewalks with mostly event supporters. During the protest, Royal Oak Police prevented pro-queer and anti-queer demonstrators alike from stepping onto the street, all along Washington and Fourth in front of the store and down to the end of the block. Large groups of demonstrators also gathered on the other three corners of the intersection. The small number of homophobic Republicans carried misinformed and outdated slogans against grooming and one, calling himself a street preacher, read from the Bible. Perhaps the biggest impression the protesters made on the massive crowd was when two large billboard trucks kept circling the block playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and antisemitic rapper Kanye West on loop.

Ed Londin and his daughter Madison came from Lathrup Village spurred on by “the injustice of what’s going on in the country,” he said. “We wanted to support the community, the drag community and the gay community.” Ed carried a sign with images of Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire, as well as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble in drag, Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie, and an image from the film “Some Like It Hot” where actors Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are also dressed in women’s clothing. His sign read “What’s changed?” Madison’s sign, meanwhile, read “Sashay your bigotry away.”

Zack Fredericks from Detroit came out “for the community. I love it. I love seeing a good outpouring of love and a good message against bigotry.” Fredericks said he was impressed by how the queer community quickly mobilized to counter protest. “ This was done in like two or three days through a Facebook page, so I think the turnout was amazing.”

Though love and support rang out loud and clear during the protest, Kara Kengy from Dearborn Heights could still feel the intensity from those angry about the story hour event. “These people disgust me,” she said about the few anti-drag extremists who did show up. “They’re trying to turn back the clock 100 years.

“It’s not about drag,” she went on. “It’s never been about drag. It’s about being homophobic and transphobic.”

Luckily, Royal Oak showed that it doesn’t have much tolerance for either of those.

“The amazing thing about this is, it’s almost entirely supported and there’s hundreds of people coming out and saying that drag queens and queer people are welcome in Royal Oak,” said Carney. “Whoever these people are who are protesting are not us. This is a community and we’re welcome here.”