Drag Queen Story Hour disrupted by men shouting slurs and threats at Bay Area library

Pickle reads a children’s book at a Drag Queen Story Hour event during the DTLA Proud Festival in August 2019. A story hour Sunday in Alameda County was disrupted by men described as members of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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On Saturday afternoon, as Panda Dulce was reading to children and their parents in a Drag Queen Story Hour event south of Oakland, the library was stormed by a group of men — some of them wearing the colors of the Proud Boys, a violent, far-right extremist group.

In a video of the event at the San Lorenzo Library shared by Dulce, several men can be heard calling her slurs and chastising parents for bringing their children. Dulce, dressed in a San Francisco Giants jersey and hat, eventually walks out as a man yells, “You’re not safe here.”

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident as a potential hate crime and as harassment and annoyance of children, officials said. Five men described as members of the Proud Boys disrupted the event, shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs, the Sheriff’s Office said in a release.

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“Proud Boys marched in, single file, with the cameras blazing pointed at me,” Dulce, 33, told The Times on Monday. “And one of them had a shirt in the black and yellow Proud Boys colors with an AK-47 on the front and the message ‘Kill your local pedophile.’

“They said, ‘So, who brought the tranny.’ They started calling me a groomer and a pedophile and talking about how sexualized I was,” she said. “They were freaking out the children. The children buried their faces into their parents’ chests, and they could not comprehend what was going on.”

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As Dulce left the reading area, escorted into a locked room by a security guard she called her hero, her mind raced with fear and panic and thoughts of recent mass shootings and hate incidents.

“We were utterly defenseless, and they could have been armed,” she said. “Even though clearly this was just a textbook intimidation tactic and they just wanted to make their presence known and scare us, make us shrink back into obscurity, I felt in real danger.”

She spent half an hour in the back room before twice attempting to return to the reading area to finish the story.

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“I was terrified to go back out there, but I didn’t want them to leave satisfied that they had successfully aborted our programming,” she said.

On the first try, Dulce said she was “hypervigilant,” her eyes “darting around,” before she returned to the back room.

After deputies escorted the remaining disruptors out, Dulce again returned to finish the story.

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“The entire time I was looking over my shoulder because [an] older couple was still pointing cameras at me and I was shaking,” she said. “It’s ironic because everyone’s saying, ‘You’re so brave,’ but I felt so terrified. It’s hard for those words to land.”

Afraid to leave the library in her drag attire and makeup, she called her partner, who brought her makeup wipes and a change of clothes.

“I left camouflaged as a [cisgender] guy,” Dulce said.

The story hours, in which drag queens read to children in libraries, schools and bookstores, have gained popularity in recent years. Dulce, a San Francisco native, has been performing in them since 2017.

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Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) said he would be returning to his district this week to meet with law enforcement and the community after the incident.

“We must reject this hate and extremism wherever it shows itself,” he said. “There is no place for this hate in the East Bay, and we all need to speak up in one voice in saying so.”

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SFGate reported that the Alameda County Library, which operates the San Lorenzo branch, will continue to host Pride Month events.

“Attempts to intimidate and silence others are not tolerated in libraries,” an Alameda County Library spokesperson wrote in a statement to SFGate. ”We are grateful to Panda Dulce for showing bravery and resilience and finishing the Storytime event.”

Lt. Ray Kelly said the Sheriff’s Office was “committed to making sure that any member of our LGBTQ community that wants to host an event or practice their right to be a member of the community is able to do so safely.”

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Though Dulce has received public support, she still feels the lingering effects of the incident.

“There’s a part of me that’s still in that room,” she said. “There’s a part of me I’m never going to get back. I don’t think after getting into that fight-flight-freeze response [that] I’ve ever left it.”

Dulce said it was no coincidence that her harassment came during Pride Month, within a day of the sixth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting and the same day that 31 members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front were arrested on suspicion of planning to riot at an Idaho Pride event.

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Both Dulce’s library appearance and the Idaho event had been highlighted in recent days by a right-wing Twitter account called Libs of TikTok.

On Sunday, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) had his home searched for explosives after a death threat was sent to his staff. Days earlier, he had tweeted a joke about adding “Drag Queen 101" to the state’s K-12 curriculum.

“If we want to find a chance at fighting [anti-transgender] legislation, mitigating further harm and further events like this, further traumas to our community, then we need to stand together,” Dulce said.

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“I feel like there are going to be Proud Boys who are watching this coverage and gloating,” she said. “They think they’re successful in victimizing us. But the queer community, we’re not victims. We are heroes. They haven’t met drag queens before because drag queens don’t do obscurity and queers don’t do quiet. We know silence equals death.”

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