Proud Boys protests over drag performers are turning violent — and now they're targeting kids
Proud Boys in Michigan (Twitter)
It was just a matter of time before the anti-LGBTQ protests got violent. For months now, egged on by Republican leaders like Gov. Ron "Don't Say Gay" DeSantis of Florida, far-right groups have been mounting increasingly aggressive anti-queer protests under the guise of "protecting" children. By framing any expression of LGBTQ identity that occurs around kids as "sexualizing" children, groups like the Proud Boys have spent months targeting family-friendly Pride events and child-oriented events where drag performers read to kids from storybooks. Even though these events are deliberately sanitized and intended only to amuse children and adults by playing dress-up, lurid claims of "grooming" and pedophilia are being leveraged to send protesters into a frenzy. In some places, protesters are showing up with guns, threatening violence around the children they claim to be "protecting."

Unsurprisingly, then, one protest in Eugene, Oregon got violent this week. Worse, the queerphobic protesters have focused their ire on an 11-year-old child, doxxing her and putting her in danger, all while claiming to do it for her own good.

Sunday morning, a restaurant called Old Nick's Pub hosted a Drag Queen Story Time Brunch. The pub, like many across the country, hosts a mix of events that are sometimes family-friendly and sometimes not. Like the pub's other family-oriented events, such as their Saturday morning pancake party, Drag Queen Story Time is a kiddie event, where drag queens and little kids bask in their shared love of flashy clothes and acting goofy. Indeed, one of the performers is an 11-year-old drag enthusiast-turned-performer who has regularly turned out to entertain the other kids.

Far-right activists seized on the existence of this child as "proof" of their false claims that drag is an elaborate cover for more sinister activities. One woman, going by the name "Honey Badger Mom" on Twitter, posted pictures of the child and made hay out of the fact that, at night on different days, the pub hosts events that are more adult in nature.

Once it was discovered that, as Eugene Weekly reports, "a drag queen who has appeared in photographs" with the tween "was later arrested on charges of child pornography," all hell broke loose. Even though the family says the child has only had cursory contact with and has never been alone with the offender, that was all the excuse that the Proud Boys needed to go on an all-out attack. The offender worked at an elementary school, but the Proud Boys are not — yet — demanding that all education be shut down because some pedophiles find positions in schools. Similarly, there is no call for organized sports or churches to be shut down, even though both institutions have had highly publicized issues with child sex offenders finding employment within them.

Drag Queen Story Time is a kiddie event, where drag queens and little kids bask in their shared love of flashy clothes and acting goofy.

Proud Boys and other anti-LGBTQ groups showed up at the drag show on Sunday and were met by a much larger group of locals there to show their support for the pub and their family-oriented events. The pub asked supporters to "keep things civil" because "[c]hildren will be present," but very quickly, according to The Register-Guard, things turned violent. Eugene Police report that firearms were being displayed by "both groups," and soon the two sides were throwing rocks at each other. Reporters snapped pictures of the Proud Boys and their allies firing paintballs at the pro-drag side. One man was taken to the hospital, but there were no arrests. Inside, the performers read books and sang children's music, keeping up a brave face.

"The issue here is they want to label queer people as pedophiles," the organizer of the event told the Eugene Weekly. He denounced the protesters for making children unsafe, despite claiming they wish to protect them.

The family of the 11-year-old performer reports their child was "unable to attend school the entire week due to safety concerns, causing serious stress, trauma, and anxiety."

This violent protest came a mere two days after a similar event in Nashville, Tennessee, complete with the attacks on children's safety under the guise of "protecting" them. Matt Walsh, a far-right podcaster for The Daily Wire, led a protest against a children's hospital run by Vanderbilt University on Friday. The protest was called "Rally to End Child Mutilation," a misleading name meant to falsely imply the hospital is performing surgeries to alter the genitals of minors. In reality, the hospital never does such surgeries on people under 18, and the rare surgeries they do offer are more cosmetic in nature and only done for those over 16.

As Emily St. James of Vox explained in a recent article, refusing gender-affirming care to minors is not about "protecting" them, but about inflicting harm. "The risks of withholding gender-affirming care vary from patient to patient but often involve things like worsening anxiety, depression, and suicidality," Jack Turban, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco, told St. James. As the article explains in great detail, the care trans children receive is slow-moving and cautious, largely focused on psychological therapy and the use of hormone blockers to delay puberty until the child matures to the point where they can start making more adult decisions about their bodies and self-presentation.

Despite their claims to the contrary, these anti-LGBTQ protesters are harming, not helping kids.

The bad faith that fuels this performative outrage is generally not hard to suss out. It appears Walsh doesn't just object to gender-affirming care for children, but to trans identities in general. On his Monday show, he blamed trans victims of murder for their own deaths by claiming "they engage in high-risk activities." His argument that older teens can't be trusted with even basic decisions regarding gender presentation is similarly suspicious. Walsh has previously argued that the category of "teenager" is a degenerate modern notion and we should return to the past, where "13-year-olds were expected to act like they're 23." Mostly, his interest was in pushing more teenage girls to marry and have babies. That he thinks teens are ready to be parents but not ready to identify as trans speaks not to a rigorous understanding of child development so much as an interest in forcing rigid gender roles.

Despite their claims to the contrary, these anti-LGBTQ protesters are harming, not helping kids. But there is one group being helped by all these conspiracy theories: Right wing Republican politicians exploiting disinformation about drag shows and trans medical care to stir up voters. Last week, the GOP nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, falsely suggested a children's hospitial in Philadelphia was "grabbing homeless kids and kids in foster care, apparently, and experimenting on them with gender transitioning." Not one word of that is true.

Arizona's Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake made similar false allegations that drag queens are "grooming" children. In response, Phoenix-based drag performer Barbra Seville posted numerous photos of Lake standing with her in full drag. "Kari was a friend of mine," wrote Seville, whose real name is Richard Stevens. "I've performed for Kari's birthday, I've performed in her home (with children present,) and I've performed for her at some of the seediest bars in Phoenix." Lake, who was once a supporter of Barack Obama's, has been regularly accused of embracing far-right politics for cynical and opportunistic reasons. These photos only added more fuel to those suspicions.

The rumor is also dehumanizing, as it equates being gay or trans with being a dumb animal.

Earlier this month, reporters for NBC News detailed how at least 20 Republican politicians have repeated false claims that "K-12 schools are placing litter boxes on campus or making other accommodations for students who identify as cats." This urban legend is rooted in the same bigoted rhetoric that is being leveraged against drag performers and trans kids. The idea is that by "allowing" minors to identify as queer or trans, the door has been opened to all sorts of wild behavior, including "allowing" kids to identify as common housepets. Not only is it not true, but the rumor is also dehumanizing, as it equates being gay or trans with being a dumb animal. The talking point has echoes of GOP rhetoric in the earlier 21st century when politicians and conservative pundits routinely suggested that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to people marrying "box turtles" or other such animals.

On the whole, the current anti-LGBTQ panic is reminiscient of the similar "Satanic panic" of the 1980s, when acccusations of ritual sexual abuse and murder were frequently leveled at everyone from daycare workers to heavy metal musicians. Then, as now, the paranoia was rooted in conservative Christian anger at social change — that's why the targets of those false accusations were people who made it easier for women to work outside of the home and those who made space for adolescent rebellion. The Satanic panic is also a reminder that moral panics and conspiracy theories create real victims. Numerous people were imprisoned based on false accusations of Satan worship. Communities and families were torn apart. Now it's happening all over again with a disinfo-fueled panic over drag shows and trans identities. Conservative pundits and politicians benefit, but innocent people — especially children — are increasingly suffering the violent consequences.