Local “Proud Boys” and others opposed to the King County Library System’s Drag Queen Story Hours showed up in Issaquah on Wednesday to voice their opposition to the events. The showing comes ahead of major Pride celebrations and after recent anti-LGBTQ vandalism in Renton that the FBI has started investigating.
At a June 26 King County Library System (KCLS) board meeting, large groups of both supporters and opponents of the events showed up to voice their opinions. This included some who may be associated with the Proud Boys, a right-wing violent street fighting organization.
KCLS spokesperson Julie Acteson said both sides followed meeting protocol, but that so many people showed up to testify, the public comment was split into two parts.
At the Issaquah gathering, a group of about 10 men wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and black shirts with Operation Cold Front logos and the words “security” and “press” stood at the front of the room on either side of the audience. Others, attendee Kate Solomon said, wore knock-off Fred Perry shirts — which have become associated with Proud Boys and the alt-right.
Solomon attended the meeting in support of the storytime events and was joined by others from the LGBTQ community. While she thinks the Drag Queen Story Hours are a “wonderful thing,” she notes there has been a lot of harassment occurring over the past couple of weeks.
Pride flags were torn down in front of businesses and there has been a concerted effort to share the private information of local drag queens on social media, a practice commonly known as doxxing. Similar behavior was displayed at the Issaquah meeting, she said.
Online debates have broken out over the story hours and teen Pride events hosted by the county library system. Solomon said a group of moms “affiliated with an anti-LGBTQ group” said they were going to attend the meeting and speak out against the Drag Queen Story Hour events, which are new to the county this year.
She believes the group of men were acting as a form of security, or protection, for the group of moms. The men also took video and photos of those who commented in support, and at one point took photos of each sign-up sheet page. Written on them were the addresses and emails of those who attended to publicly speak.
At one point, attendee Morgan McQuiston, an Issaquah resident, said she saw a man attempt to enter the building with a gun. She said she could see the barrel of the weapon, and a man holding it close to his body. He was denied entry, she said, but later returned for the meeting without the weapon.
“God bless those librarians handling the situation so well,” McQuiston said.
The Reporter was not able to independently verify this at the time of publication, and Issaquah Police Department spokesperson Paula Schwan and Acteson said they had no reports of a firearm at the meeting. However, a male was arrested in the parking lot for harassment after brandishing a baseball bat, according to Schwan.
MassResistance is a nationwide anti-LGBTQ group involved with protesting the reading hour events, and spokesperson Arthur Schaper said they believed the events were “perverse.”
“This is egregious conduct to subject children to pervese adult entertainment,” Schaper said.
Schaper said he was concerned of reports from the Renton event where sexual health products like condoms were being handed out. He also said his organization had heard from parents across the state who were worried about the event.
Despite the controversy, Acteson said all the Drag Queen Story Hour events have been well attended and seem to be appreciated by the majority of the community.
“The last one in Des Moines was around 250 people there,” Acteson said.
Local police departments have provided security for the events, including Des Moines and Renton officers. A fourth and final event is scheduled for Thursday at the Fairwood Library in Renton where King County Sheriff’s deputies will be present.
“We have had a (law enforcement) presence, and we’re expecting that at the Fairwood Library as well,” Acteson said.
However, there were no police officers present at the KCLS meeting in Issaquah
“I made sure one of the folks on the library board knew that they need to have actual police at these events going forward,” said Nathan English. “It seems to be a concerted effort to intimidate the community to take these events away … We need actual peace officers there to enforce some semblance of peace and safety.”
The Proud Boys are an organization that claims to promote “Western chauvinism” and frequently engages in street fights with political opponents. Last October, their members made national headlines after brutally attacking counter-protesters, leading to multiple arrests. The group was founded by vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, who has since jumped ship and left the organization.
Acteson said she’s not surprised that libraries can become lightning rods for controversy.
“Libraries across the nation are dealing with this — it’s something that libraries are champions of diversity and tolerance and inclusion, and so when you stand up for those values, from time to time you come under attack for holding to those values,” Acteson said. “It’s unfortunate that some people believe that they have a right to restrict the information and the activities that other people may enjoy.”
At a June 22 event in Renton, a group of women were present to document the event, Acteson said. Those opposed were met with a large group of supporters of the event, she said.
The meeting and final Drag Queen Story Hour precedes major Pride events scheduled regionally. In Seattle, a Trans Pride Parade is scheduled to march on Capitol Hill to Cal Anderson Park. A counter-march organized by far-right organizations like the Proud Boys and Operation Cold Front have announced they will march from City Hall Park to Capitol Hill at the same time.
This additionally comes in the wake of vandalism of a Renton church’s Pride display, which was vandalized and later bombed. The FBI is investigating the incident.