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Supporters of the Drag Queen Story Time hosted by Betty Baker gather outside of the Peterborough Public Library in opposition to a small number of protesters who oppose the event. Photo: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

"Hate Hurts Kids": Protesters Vastly Outnumbered by Supporters of Drag Queen Story Time Event

Written by
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay
and
and
January 17, 2023
"Hate Hurts Kids": Protesters Vastly Outnumbered by Supporters of Drag Queen Story Time Event
Supporters of the Drag Queen Story Time hosted by Betty Baker gather outside of the Peterborough Public Library in opposition to a small number of protesters who oppose the event. Photo: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

In the end, it wasn’t even fair. Love and community won the day in Peterborough as a substantial crowd of supporters of the Drag Queen Story Time, hosted by Betty Baker, gathered outside of the Peterborough Public Library on Aylmer Street on the morning of January 14th.

At a meeting of the Finance Committee on January 10th, Peterborough Public Library CEO Jennifer Jones called the Story Time events “such a wonderful expression of joy and love” in response to a question from Councillor Joy Lachica. 

“Our philosophy is that we try to offer something for everybody,” Jones added, clarifying that the library’s approach to inclusivity is to ensure that community members always have a choice - “You don't have to come if you don’t want to,” she said.

The weeks leading up to the event were tense given the public knowledge that a contingent of protesters was planning on attending in order to disrupt the event with threats of violence. Another event on September 24th, 2022 attracted protests in opposition to the Story Time led by Ben Inglis of Hill City Baptist Church and former People’s Party of Canada federal candidate for Peterborough-Kawartha, Paul Lawton.

More recently, one of Baker’s December events at a Peterborough parenting studio was cancelled due to similar concerns for the safety of both the performer and those attending.

In communications sent to Arthur from the organization Peterborough and Kawarthas United Against Hate, the group noted that the goal of the counter-protest was to “shut down hate in Peterborough and the Kawartha region…peacefully, but firmly, by making sure we have a presence wherever it rears its ugly face.” In doing so, it continued “we can divide and demoralize their supporters, and give strength to our own communities and struggles.”  

Amongst the crowd of supporters who attended on Saturday were groups of people who had travelled from Toronto and reportedly as far away as Owen Sound in order to stand in solidarity with the rights of families and children to partake in the Story Time event at their public library.

One supporter from Toronto who spoke to Arthur and requested their name not be used in print stated that he had been watching the way that certain hate groups in the area and beyond have been mobilizing over the past few months.   

“It takes a lot for these people to accept that they are bigots and homophobes,” he said before talking about how there are many more people in online spaces who hold similar beliefs to the small contingent who showed up to disrupt the event but  just don’t bother showing up in person due to the inconvenience of being called what their actions would suggest they are.

The relatively light presence of protesters in opposition to the event should not be taken as an indication that the ideas they hold are not widespread said one attendee. Photo: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

He went on to say that he sees immense value in coming to neighbouring communities in order to build solidity and network with those who oppose violence and bigotry in all forms.

In many ways, by couching the logic of their complaints in the protection of children, these arguments mirror concerns promoted by anti-vaccine and lockdown protestors. Many in attendance in support of Baker and the library noted that the application of these specific concerns represents the evolving nature of these movements. 

However, one need not look very hard or long at the depth of the arguments being spouted to recognize how they fall short. Long-time Peterborough resident, Melissa Higgs, told Arthur that one needs to look at their rhetoric and recognize the fact that what it boils down to is that they’re actively working against the right of trans children to exercise their bodily autonomy. 

“They argue that they are about children, but if they cared about children they would look at the actual paedophiles,” Higgs said. She added that statistically, children are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know and that kids who grow up in an environment that discourages discussions of gender identity and expression places children at risk of sexual violence.  

Peter Vostch, a member of the International Socialists and one of the organizers of the counter-protest in solidarity with the Peterborough Public Library, noted the necessity of pushing this kind of hateful rhetoric back before they grow on these issues. 

“We need to build our movement now. We can’t let them push us around,” Votsch told Arthur. He too noted that for someone like him who has been involved in anti-fascist organizing for nearly five decades, he has been noticing a lot of recurring rhetoric, especially around the idea of “grooming” - a notion which fuelled earlier manifestations of the anti-LGBTQ movement. 

He recognized too, however, that he understands these forms of anger and resentment being tied to the fact that working people have not seen a rise in their living standards.      

Supporters of the event and of Baker were not the only ones who travelled some distance to be there, however. As Chants of “Hate hurts Kids! Drag Queens don’t” rang out across the street, several protestors ran across the street to confront the supporters directly despite a noticeable police presence.

"Love wins" - Chrystal Peters of Brampton confronts supporters of Betty Baker's outside Peterborough Public Library on January 14th, 2023. Photo: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

One woman wearing a sweater with the message “Stand for your kids while you still can” later identified as Chrystal Peters of Brampton, spent a long time yelling at the gathered supporters, many of whom shielded themselves with rainbow flags and signs. Later on, a man in a cowboy hat adorned with Info Wars and “Fuck Trudeau” buttons appealed half-heartedly for someone to engage him in conversation as he wandered up and down the sidewalk in front of the library.

A protester in search of conversation. Photo: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

At one point, Peters could be overheard asking an auxiliary officer for his badge number because he wasn’t taking her complaints of harassment seriously. When she had finally tired of her pursuit of justice, the officer turned to Arthur staff and said “She didn’t ask if I was a volunteer” while pointing to the bold type on his jacket sleeve.

Following the performance, children and their families left the library without incident, with supporters clearing a path for them to walk through and keeping the protesters at bay. 

Better Baker gave a brief speech thanking the crowd of supporters for “coming out and being so wonderfully supportive and for celebrating diversity and protecting trans kids.”

Betty Baker addresses the crowd of supporters following the Drag Queen Story time event on January 14th, 2023. Photo: Evan Robins

“I want to thank my amazing, incredible parents and want to thank my incredibly accepting and wonderful 90-year-old grandmother. Love wins!”

The next Drag Story Time events at the Peterborough Public Library are Scheduled for February 25th and March 11th.

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