Clash over Coquitlam library drag story time turns into ‘biggest gathering of queer people the Tri-Cities has ever seen’

photo supplied Peter McCartney

What started as an angry protest over Drag Queen storytime at Coquitlam library’s Town Centre branch quickly evolved into a surrealistic street party on Saturday morning.

The library had announced drag performer Conni Smudge would lead family story time with songs, crafts and the chance for attendees to make their own drag queen doll. Prior to the event, Coquitlam Library suspended comments on all social media posts.

With word spreading about a planned protest, comedian Darcy Michael took to social media to call for a counter protest.

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“I don’t tweet but when they come for my drag queens, I can’t sit by,” Michael wrote, inviting residents to counter the “idiotic morons protesting our friend.” The tweet was seen more than 11,000 times.

Part of the urgency stemmed from a previous protest at a drag story time in which there was no one to counter, according to Nicola Spurling, an LGBTQ2+ advocate and former Green Party candidate.

“There was this feeling that the community needs to rally together and make sure that changes this time,” Spurling said. “I think a lot of people just didn’t want to see hate be unchallenged.”

One protester carried a sign reading: Sexualizing Children Is Child Abuse. He stood outside the library, holding a megaphone and repeating: “You guys are promoting pedophilia,” as seen in footage of the event posted on social media.

With both Canadian flags and Pride flags waving, counter protesters chanted: “Love is louder.”

photo supplied Nicola Spurling

For parent Sean McQuillan, who opted to go to the event because he had a free morning, the volume of the protesters was a surprise.

McQuillan characterized the protesters as “trying to intimidate parents and children.”

“Thankfully though there is a large volume of people there to buffer said protesters,” he wrote on social media. “My kids want to go to story time, not an altercation.”

The size of the counter protest was unprecedented in the Tri-Cities, according to Spurling.

“Everyone just came out in force,” she said. “It was the biggest gathering of queer people I think the Tri-Cities has ever seen.”

‘Pushing and shoving’

Spurling reported one protester who tried to “horsekick” her.

“He missed and just sort of grazed my shin,” she said. “I don’t know if they believe in the cause or if they were just there to try to start problems.”

Police tried to keep the peace, according to Spurling.

Aside from “some minor pushing and shoving,” there was no violence and no arrests, Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Alexa Hodgins told CityNews.

A protester who goes by the name Billboard Chris blasted the “child sexualization event,” which he noted was attended by Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson.

“Damn right I was there,” Robinson responded, writing that she was there to represent diversity, inclusion and love.

photo supplied Selina Robinson

As the ranks of the protesters began to overwhelm the initial protest, several attendees started dancing. A speaker blared Disney songs, some Aretha Franklin and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga.

‘Wholesome event’

Once inside, the kids had a blast, McQuillan wrote.

“The children just see a glamorous lady with pink hair reading a story,” he wrote.

The anger around the event – which consisted of a performer singing songs and reading a children’s book about a dinosaur – was rooted in misconceptions, Spurling said.

“It’s just a very wholesome event,” she said. “It’s incredibly ironic that the people who are protesting it are trying to promote freedom.”

Grooming

Several counter-protesters were accused of being “groomers.”

Robinson responded to the accusation by outlining the importance of good hygiene including daily bathing and teeth brushing.

McQuillan seemed nonplussed by the grooming accusation.

“What am I grooming them for?” he asked. “A world where people are accepted and not tossed out for being different?”

After the event, Spurling reflected on “the downside” of finally having a platform.

“It seems like the hate just keeps building as we talk about trans issues and gay issues more,” Spurling said.

However, the event also illustrated of the region’s burgeoning LGBTQ2+ community, she noted.

“It shows that we have the ability to create queer community out in the Tri-Cities,” Spurling said. “Maybe now that [supporters] have taken the SkyTrain and realized it’s actually not that difficult to get to downtown Coquitlam, maybe that’ll inspire more of these kinds of events.”

Leaving the event, performer Conni Smudge thanked the crowd for “thousands and thousands” of messages of support.

“All of you being here with your open minds, and your open hearts, and you being your authentic selves, has made this old queen’s life worthwhile,” Smudge said.

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