Jones Library tea party a civilized affair, despite protest over drag queen

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-21-2023 5:22 PM

AMHERST — A children’s story hour presented by drag queen Giganta Smalls at the Jones Library Saturday morning went on as scheduled after publicity surrounding it drew a number of demonstrators, most in support of the event but also some opposed.

Even though more than 50 people gathered outside the Amity Street building to make their voices heard, there were no disturbances as police officers and the town’s Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service were on hand to ensure those attending the event made it safely inside.

People there to support the reading held rainbow-colored umbrellas and flags, including those associated with the national Parasol Patrol, a nonprofit national organization that has been staging non-confrontational rallies at similar drag queen story hours, and other events that support the LGBTQ community, across the country.

A smaller number of protesters carried signs and shouted criticisms.

The tea party for children ages 4 to 9 and parents and guardians included a few books read by Smalls, such as “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish Swish Swish,” “Just Add Glitter” and “Luli and the Language of Tea,” with children encouraged to dress up with glitter and crowns.

Two members of the Amherst Town Council and trustees for the library were also on hand to observe the event, along with Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Library Director Sharon Sharry and state Rep. Mindy Domb.

“I am grateful to the Jones Library for creating safe, creative and inclusive spaces for our kids to grow into compassionate and well informed human beings,” District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne wrote in a Facebook post following the event. “I’m so humbled and moved by the dedication and care of our community members who continued to widen our circle of care for all human beings.”

Fellow District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier, too, used Facebook to compliment what she called a “joyful event” organized by staff and trustees to have a safe and compassionate environment. “The Tea Party/story time with Giganta Smalls was so sweet, and the outfits and crowns were fabulous,” Devlin Gauthier wrote.

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The Jones Library story time came the same day as police in Silver Spring, Maryland, had to break up a Proud Boys protest outside of a drag queen story hour at a bookshop in that city. Last month, neo-Nazis disrupted a story hour in Taunton. Criticism in advance of story times elsewhere has led to stepped-up police patrols to keep the peace.

In advance of Jones Library’s story time, and with it on the library’s calendar, the trustees received a public comment from a concerned individual, though it was unclear whether that person lives locally. On social media, Jerry Evans on Twitter used the hashtag #BoycottDQSH: “We must raise awareness and parents need to start speaking up!” Evans wrote.

Bahl-Milne said the Town Council received a handful of complaints, and she credited CRESS and police for their collaboration, with the responders inside the building and police officers outside.

Former Select Board member Connie Kruger was among those who observed what happened. Kruger said she appreciated seeing the colorful action by the Parasol Patrol and volunteers’ efforts to shield children from the protesters, using the umbrellas as blinds and chanting “we love books” to drown out any critical and potentially offensive shouts design to create fear and intimidation.

“I’m impressed with the idea to do protection through a celebratory wall,” Kruger said.

Kruger said she has family members who are drag queens and might face similar pushback.

“I’m glad I had the experience and feel strongly about the issue,” Kruger said, adding that she would be happy to join the Parasol Patrol in responding to similar confrontations that might take place in the region.

Smalls posted on her Facebook page that the event went well.

“So much fun and celebration today!! Thank you to the Jones Library & Branches for having me and to everyone who came out in support of individuality and creativity! Drag is not a new art form and it is not going anywhere! I can’t wait to be back!”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>