Protests and counter-protests at Drag Queen Storytime at Louisville Free Public Library
I recently spent two hours standing on the steps of the Main Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library as part of a counter protest. I’ve visited this library countless times over the years and have never seen anything close to the scene that unfolded this particular, hot Saturday afternoon.
As part of an effort to offer programming to the diverse families of Louisville, the library was hosting its first Drag Queen Storytime with Vanessa Demornay, and a group of folks started an online campaign to get the event canceled. When that effort failed, they announced a protest at the library on the day of the event.
The ACLU of Kentucky joined Derby City Sisters and the Fairness Campaign for a counter-protest so that children and their families would see friendly faces amongst the protestors and police as they walked into the library. I live-streamed the raucous protest for the ACLU of Kentucky’s Facebook page. If you watch the video you’ll see that on either side of the steps of the library’s York Street entrance protestors (outnumbered by counter-protestors 3 to 1) set up loudspeakers and used megaphones to quote Bible verses, shout at families walking in to attend the event, and hurl insults at protestors.
In the span of two hours I was told personally, “Jesus hates you,” “You are going to Hell,” and “You will burn for eternity.” Interestingly, the voices screaming messages of hate and damnation were familiar. They belonged to the very same people that just hours before the library story time had set up shop with the same megaphones and loudspeakers in front of EMW Women’s Clinic, the last remaining abortion clinic in the Commonwealth.
The people who just hours before were yelling at people entering the clinic “Don’t kill your baby! Don’t commit murder today ma’am!” were the same people who were yelling at parents walking their children into story time, “You hate that child! You are corrupting that child!”
Also interesting was the differing police responses to these two events. At the library, as the protest and counter-protest grew, barricades were moved to establish a clear path for families to enter the library. In fact, after one protestor posted himself at the top of the steps and near the door to get closer to families to yell at them, a police officer stood at the bottom of the stairs and directed families up the opposite side, closer to counter-protestors that were waving to the kids and giving out high-fives.
At the clinic, there is no police intervention and advocates have been fighting for a Safety Zone to provide a clear pathway for patients for years with no success. It was just as heartbreaking to see frightened children covering their ears as they made their way through the protest to enter the library, as it is to see frightened patients covering themselves in blankets and jackets as they make their way through the protests to enter the clinic.
What gives me hope is that at both of these protests brave Louisvillians volunteered hours of their weekend to stand against hate and be a source of light for others. At the clinic, the Louisville Clinic Escorts (volunteer group not formally affiliated with the clinic) are there any time the clinic is open, guiding people through the obstacles on the sidewalk into the doors of EMW.
At the library, the Derby City Sisters took the lead, leading counter protestors in chants of, “Love! Joy! Acceptance!” and rounds of singing, “This Little Light of Mine.” Each family that left the library emerged with beaming smiles and crowns on their heads that they’d crafted during the event to cheers and applause from the counter-protestors. Determined as it was, hate did not win on this Saturday in Louisville.
Amber Duke is Communications Director at the ACLU of Kentucky.