Strathroy Pride seeks meeting with mayor, police after Drag Storytime protest

What was meant to be a unique and engaging affair for children and families at the Parkhill Library on Saturday was dampened after protestors showed up and heckled parents who brought their children.

Christa and Elliot Duvall, a London couple, said they decided to attend the Drag Queen Storytime event after they saw a video about it on the social media app TikTok, and saw alleged threats organizers were receiving. The pair, who support various LGBTQ+ organizations in the London area, wanted to make sure other attendees got in and out of the event safely.

The Duvall’s said when they arrived, a group of around 25 protestors were on site “yelling and screaming” at people going inside.

“They were calling parents who take their kids to these things groomers and pedophiles,” Christa claimed. “They said we were exposing children to unnatural things.”

Elliot explained that some protestors said things and had signs that expressed drag queen storytelling events should only be for those 18 and older, and banned among minors.

“Drag queens just want to read stories,” Christia continued. “They’re not there to sexualize kids. They’re not dancing, they’re not dressed in scantily-clothed outfits, they’re not holding children on their laps, they’re not even touching the kids. They’re there to read stories about inclusivity and acceptance, and isn’t that what we all need in this world?”

The couple claims the protestors began to escalate, which is when they started “shielding” families from the aggravated picketers in an attempt to prevent the protesters from confronting parents.  They added that some families were very clearly stressed by the situation, claiming several parents and children of varying ages were in tears.

In the aftermath of the incident, an official with event organizer Strathroy Pride, said they are shocked with how hostile some protestors were.

“It was really challenging to kind of and navigate what was happening because it escalated so quickly,” said Kirby Bennett, co-director of Strathroy Pride. “There was a handful of people who were actually being peaceful protestors, standing back off the sidewalk holding their signs, but there was a handful of people who truly were really agressive. They were not being peaceful.”

Bennett called the behaviour displayed by several protestors, who allegedly yelled profanity through megaphones and waved signs in people’s faces, devastating.

As a result, Bennett and Strathroy Pride plan to seek guidance from governing officials and local law enforcement to try and avoid a similar occurrence from happening in the future.

“I think collaborating with as many community partners as we can pull together and just have a plan so everyone knows their roles and everyone knows what to expect, and [how we can] keep people psychologically safe and keep people physically safe for all of our future events,” said Bennett.

Although there was an OPP presence near the library on Saturday, Bennett felt the lack of police presence inside the event might have been why protestors behaved so brazenly.

“[Strathroy Pride] is not saying [the police] didn’t do anything, I think nobody was really expecting [the protests] to happen to that extent,” said Bennett. “Having those further conversations at a higher level to be able to have a plan in place so the officers know what they are allowed to do and when to do it I think is going to be really helpful.”

Strathroy Pride said its next steps include writing a letter requesting a meeting with Mayor Colin Grantham, Strathroy-Caradoc Police Service Chief Mark Campbell, and local Ontario Provicial Police officials to discuss the incident and get feedback on potential measures that could be put in place to assure residents that future events it plans to hold will be safe to attend.

-With files from Rebecca Chouinard and Scott Kitching

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