All photographs provided by: The Larson Lens, LLC
For much of December and January, Huntington Woods Library's "Drag Queen Storytime" was under attack by forces of bigotry within, and without, the local community. It began with City Commissioner Allison Iversen, whose emails about the event included the following "I have been trying to get this stopped since it started. Please do get more people involved. I am one voice and we need many people to call this out for what it is." That leak prompted a City Commission meeting where residents of Huntington Woods showed overwhelming support for the program.
"The results that have been achieved by Drag QUEEN Storytime is statistical truth to the desire of Huntington Woods and surrounding cities, which was echoed by community member after community member, at last month's City Commission meeting. There is a waiting list for the event, and ONE letter of opposition that was the only letter sent to the Mayor's office. The community has spoken, HATE chooses NOT to hear them,” stated Jey'nce Poindexter, Founder of Trans Sistas of Color Project - Detroit and Board Member of Women's March, MI, who was in attendance at the meeting. Allison Iversen would resign early on December 18th, with her bid to end Storytime failing.
The results have been readily apparent. Joyce Krom, the librarian organizing Storytime, has been assembling wildly successful events, with 100 attendees at her first event and a perpetual waiting list since. "We strive to support all children in our community, one of our top priorities is to be welcoming and inclusive, and always work toward creating a more equitable society," Krom told MDPAN, when describing the purpose behind Drag Queen Storytime. Miss Raven Divine Cassadine, a regular host of Storytime, was leading the reading on January 26th. "I think that it’s very important that we teach the importance of reading to the children and acceptance for everyone regardless of race, sex or gender," expounded Miss Raven, on why she stays involved.
Despite all these triumphs, Poindexter was astute to point out that hate wasn't listening. In her emails, Iversen put out a call for greater involvement in shutting down the event. Tennessee-based hate group Warriors for Christ answered that call. Their founder, Rich Penkoski, placed his ignorance on public display when describing his reasons for protesting the event "Parents that bring their kids to this, you can say what you want, but a transgender 4-year-old is like a vegan cat. We know who's making the lifestyle choices for that cat and that child. Children should be left alone." This group has attempted frivolous lawsuits in Louisiana, where they booked space in the library, then proceeded to intimidate participants (some as young as 3) and filmed the Story Hour without permission. Upon encountering consequences for this behavior, they filed suit claiming their First Amendment rights were infringed upon.
MDPAN was one of the organizations asked to come out and support the event, and proceeded to call the banners of the Motor City Sisters, GNA, TSOCP, TGDetroit, Planned Parenthood, Refuse Fascism, American Atheists, and Ferndale Pride. With local organizing provided by Sara Smith, the inaugural Queensguard was formed. It's mission: protect children, their families and the Queens from hate speech and other attacks, allowing Drag Queen Storytime to continue unhindered.
January 26th, 1:30 PM, pre-event defense.
The forces of hate had an early start to the day. A group of 8 well-dressed bourgeoisie formed the "Michigan Mass Resistance", an anti-LGBTQIA group who also threatened to protest the event. They stood near the entrance, inviting passersby to pray the rosary for an imagined corruption of children. They were being interviewed by the Church Militant, a Ferndale-based group that abandoned all the class consciousness of the Game of Thrones group they copied, but kept the bigotry. South of them, along the sidewalk, were a pack of six men in hoodies, several of which read "Proud Boys" along the chest, and another in a red "Make America Great Again" sweatshirt. Warriors for Christ, numbering 6, were the last to arrive, but were very proud of their custom jumpsuits.
On the other side of the wall, Queensguard had amassed over 100 supporters with almost an hour left until the 3 PM event start time. An experienced and capable bunch, they immediately took the front line, bedecked and bedazzled in rainbows, facepaint, and a gigantic array of custom signs, plus a bunch more donated by Planned Parenthood and American Atheists. The lime-capped bigot opened proceedings declaring shame and eternal hellfire on the supporters for helping corrupt the minds of children. Queensguard responded to that verbal assault with a thundering chorus of "Love Not Hate" and "Hate Go Home".
As more supporters rolled in between 2 and 3 PM, eventually exceeding 200, Warriors for Christ decided to target specific marginalized groups during their raving. "Everyone wants to be gay, but nobody wants the AIDs," was one such example, noted by a local member of the gay community. Others reported Islamaphobic comments, and a bizarre obsession with adult diapers. As volunteers with ample cellphone batteries teamed with supporters carrying a portable speaker, the screech of bigotry was deadened by the speaker and the crowd erupting into Barney's "I Love You".
2:45 PM - Showtime
Parents and their kids arrived for Storytime. One participant in the Queensguard had a basket full of flowers with ribbon and a positive, affirming message attached for each child attending. MDPAN's Lead Marshall, wearing a rainbow cape, topped with a pink wig, brought popular children's books to pass out to each young person who could make it for Storytime. When it came time to enter the library, all 200+ of the Queensguard did their best Red Sea impression, parting to provide safe passage and booming cheers for standing up to hate.
One parent would later remark "Uh oh, I hope my kid's not expecting a present and cheering every time we go to one of these."
The Proud Boys made a considerable effort to distance themselves from Warriors for Christ, milling around on the sidewalk South of the parking lot. Unfortunately, the majority of the parents were entering from that direction. Red Orchestra (RO) and Southeast Michigan John Brown Gun Club (JBGC) provided volunteers for the demonstration to ward off attacks, verbal or otherwise, from the hate groups present. It should be noted the Proud Boys were briefly added to the FBI's terror watchlist, and have strong ties to the recently arrested Roger Stone. Both RO and JBGC took the point on the South end of the parking lot to ensure no parents would be accosted, with significant success.
Meanwhile, at the wall, the Southernmost member of the Queensguard embarked on a special mission. Matthew Kinne is an attorney that's traveled nationwide trying to stop WfC's campaign of hate against any number of genders greater than two. He brought a large thermos full of hot water, and an entire case of hot chocolate powder with balloons tied to it. Kinne attempted to have a frank, calm dialogue and perhaps a declaration of piece. Instead, the Warriors for Christ speaker rejected the gift, and proceeded to point at trans members of Queensguard and deliberately misgender them, including comments like "God will make a man out of you!" (EDIT: 2/21/19) Kinne's mission was successful, with the Southern Poverty Law Center granting the "anti-LGBT hate group" designation to Warriors for Christ. Following the news, WfC Patriarch Rich Penkoski posted a video saltier than Lot's wife on their decision to abandon their base in West Virginia.
While everyone was dressed in their Pride parade best, it was the Motor City Sisters taking everyone's breath away. With Warriors for Christ targeting individuals among the Queensguard with hate speech, Sister Misty Meanor sprung into action. Clothed as the Virgin Mary, or at least the second part, she bravely strode to the front of the line, directly in front of the bigots. From there, she turned her back to hate and let her habit fly, supported by a pair of nearby Queensguard. Golden and blue light from the fabric completely covered the megaphone operator in Warriors for Christ from view, muffling his speech in the process.
Despite WfC's leader, Rich Penkoski, saying children should be left alone in his attacks on Drag Queen Storytime, the families participating were the next major targets of the group. A barrage of vitriol eschewed from their megaphone, attempting to tell children as young as 3 that their parents were going to make them go to hell.
Fortunately, the Queensguard was more than prepared to counter. A few clicks and swipes on a cell phone had "Baby Shark" blaring through a portable speaker, with other activists holding the mic from their megaphones up to the speaker, creating a surround sound effect focused directly on the religious zealot screaming at 4-year-olds. Swaying like the waves of the ocean, all 200+ of the Queensguard lifted their voices to the heavens, belting out every "doo doo dodo do do" along the way. Paralyzed with involuntary laughter, WfC's mouthpiece did the one thing no one expected: he stopped talking.
At this time, the Proud Boys skulked off, and members of RO and JBGC took point at the neighborhood intersections to ensure their preferred tactic of jumping lone activists post-event would fail.
3:30 PM - Exit, stage left.
RO and JBGC provided escort detail for families or members of Queensguard walking to their cars alone or in a small group. Thanks to the (baby) shark attack, the primary threat of WfC was effectively diminished. All families were able to return to their cars safely.
It was at this point it became apparent how overwhelming the support for Drag Queen Storytime was in the Huntington Woods community. Mayor Paul stood in the supporters camp, joined by recently elected City Commissioner Michelle Elder, who replaced Allison Iversen. The literature didn't stop with just the kids, either, as many of the organizations present educational pamphlets to distribute. Joyce Krom joined the exit procession for a bit, making sure to meet one of the illustrious Motor City Sisters:
After an impromptu dance party to finish the successful defense, the principal organizers started returning to their vehicles. However, there was a bit of a standoff as everyone departed. "We stayed with the last protester on site because they were parked in front of the WfC people and didn't want to be seen getting in their car by them," reports Gloom, a member of RO and JBGC. Both sides stared each other down for a few minutes, then back-up arrived from other organizers who just finished packing up. The WfC pick-up sped off at the sight of greater numbers and all returned safely.
MDPAN is please to report zero arrest and zero instances of violence, and would like to thank Red Orchestra, JBGC and all experienced protesters who helped keep it that way.
More information about the Proud Boys can be found here.
Disclaimer: While MDPAN wholeheartedly believes in the mission of antifascism, and is happy to work with groups under that banner, it is not itself an Antifa collective. All information was gathered and compiled by Red Orchestra and JBGC. Please direct any questions, or supplementary information, to those sources.