DANVERS — A swarm of rainbow-clad supporters of a makeup class for teens taught by a drag queen at the town library vastly outnumbered anti-LGBTQ+ protesters in yet another example of culture wars coming to a public space in Massachusetts.
About a half-dozen people showed up to protest the event Wednesday, compared with the 200 or so who showed up out of solidarity with handheld signs that said “U Be U,” “No Place for Hate,” and “Drag Is Art.”
State Senator Joan B. Lovely said she was there to join in and “to make sure that when hatred shows up, that love shows up as well.”
“As you can see from this crowd, there’s more love than hate here,” said Lovely, a Salem Democrat who represents Danvers, Beverly, and Peabody.
With students, young families, and a coalition of organizations in attendance, the lawn outside the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers and the driveway leading up to it were a spectacle of tie-dye colors, sights, and sounds. Someone waved a sign that said “Drag isn’t dangerous, but hate, bigotry, and ignorance are.” The crowd chanted: “Say it loud, say it clear, bigots are not welcome here.”
They brought cowbells and megaphones, flew peace signs, and sported rainbow everything from pinwheels, umbrellas, and banners, to socks, tutus, top hats, and suspenders.
“It’s very overwhelming to see how many people actually are here,” said Lane Billings, of Beverly, president of the newly formed North Shore LGBTQ+ Network.
Shielding children who wanted to attend the event from any possible hostility was their primary reason for being there, Billings said.
“We want to protect the kids,” Billings said. “Let’s just let them be kids. Let’s let them grow up with love and support.”
Amanda Peterson, 32, brought her daughter and son, 4 and 6, to the event from their home half an hour away in Chelmsford.
“It is important to me that these guys grow up in a world where anybody can be what they want,” Peterson said, adding that there had been recent “tension” at her local library.
“I think this is happening everywhere,” Peterson said. “We like to pretend that Massachusetts is safe from this kind of hatred, but it’s not.”
Libraries in Jamaica Plain, Fall River, and Taunton have all been subject to protest over hosting LGBTQ+-themed events.
Drag story hours, a staple at Massachusetts libraries for years as a way for kids and families to learn about inclusion and representation, have become yet another flashpoint in the nation’s culture wars, drawing protests and increased hostility in New England and the country.
“Kids should not be around men dressed as women,” said Denise Page, 65, of Danvers, a protester. “It’s indoctrinating, it’s grooming, and it’s sexualizing.”
“I’ve been to drag shows. They’re very sexual,” she said, standing on an island in the library’s parking lot.
Page said she spent a couple of days making signs out of poster board to hand out to fellow protesters but the turnout wasn’t what she had hoped. She brought along her 15-year-old grandson. He held a sign that said, “Straight Pride.”
“Obviously we don’t have as many people who want to protest on our side,” Page said. “I have to say, I’m disappointed at the anti-choice people, that we didn’t have more people come out.”
A man nearby waved a black-and-white American flag with one blue stripe, also known as the thin blue line flag, associated with police solidarity. Protesters’ signs said “Don’t Drag Down Danvers” and “Parents Beware. Stop. Say No.”
Jody Mullen, 64, of Beverly, said the lopsided turnout was “sad and very upsetting.”
“This isn’t about being gay,” Mullen said. “It’s not appropriate for children. If you’re an adult, do whatever you want. But come near my kids, and you’re going to regret it, big time.
“That this many people are OK with it is sick,” Mullen said. “Why do they want to be around children? It’s not normal.”