Protests form outside Edmonton library over drag queen reading to children

A noisy scene transpired outside the public library in downtown Edmonton Saturday morning, as protesters and counter-protesters clashed over a drag queen being allowed to read to children.

Over the Rainbow Storytime with Felicia Bonée was part of library's summer programming

People holding a Pride flag and signs with messages of support are facing other people. One person is recording on their smartphone.
A crowd of about 50 people were outside the Edmonton Public Library downtown, protesting or counter-protesting whether a drag queen should be reading to children at a library-sponsored event. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

A noisy scene transpired outside the public library in downtown Edmonton Saturday morning, as protesters and counter-protesters clashed over an event where a drag queen was invited to read to children.

Around 11 a.m., Felicia Bonée, with their pink hair and wearing a necklace and a long purple dress, was positioned in front of Pride-coloured balloons and read and sang to dozens of children and parents in the Stanley A. Milner library.

Meanwhile, a crowd of about 50 people held ground outside, on the corner of 100th Street and 102nd Avenue. One side was against the library-sponsored event, suggesting it wasn't safe for kids. The other, sporting Pride colours and playing music, was there to support the LGBT community.

"A lot of hate-filled, angry people are emboldened by current political figures that seem to be kind of rising in power," said Rob Browatzke, who attended the counter-protest. Browatzke co-owns Evolution Wonderlounge, Edmonton's gay bar.

"They're frustrated because they're dying off. That [cis-gender], white, straight world that they thought that they were in charge of is actually not the real world at all."

The event held Saturday morning, called Over the Rainbow Storytime, was part of the Edmonton Public Library's summer programming. The event's description said it would be a family-friendly program, suitable for children from preschool age to 12 years old, featuring stories of diversity and inclusion, singing and "maybe even a little glitter."

Someone is seated holding a book. They are holding it in a way that allows the audience watching and listening to them can see the illustrations. Several dozen people are in the audience.
Felicia Bonée, a local drag queen, read to children and parents as part of an Edmonton Public Library event called Over the Rainbow Storytime. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Family Guy's Family Law Reform planned a protest outside the library ahead of the event, however. Organizers claimed they were concerned the event would be sexual in nature, thus inappropriate for children.

"What we are against is the propagandization of our children toward what could be considered sexual, as well as political, ideologies," said Bradley Chalmers, an organizer and member of Family Guy's. 

The group describes itself as a family law reform advocate, according to its website. It has made several Facebook posts in recent weeks that suggest drag queens would somehow manipulate, groom, or sexualize children.

Word of the protest made it to local LGBT advocates, who then organized a counter-protest.

"We all rallied together and we decided that this is not going to be something that we're going to allow in our streets," said Kayle Mackintosh, one of the counter-protest organizers.

Roma Schroter, another organizer, said the protesters' beliefs are prejudiced and they are spreading a stigma based on falsehoods.

A person on the left is holding a sign in support of the LGBT community. Someone standing to the right is holding a sign that reads, 'Leave the kids alone.'
Word of the protest organized by Family Guy's Family Law Reform, which describes itself as a family law reform advocate and has made several transphobic Facebook posts ahead of Saturday's library event, made it to local LGBT advocates, who organized a counter-protest. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"They are taking away from an incredibly inclusive and adorable event, frankly," Schroter said.

Justin Duval was walking nearby with his wife and two daughters, Anna and Evelin. They saw the crowd and eventually learned what people were doing on the corner, so they went inside for storytime, Duval said.

The family enjoys visiting the library, he said, particularly for its range of programming that can introduce his children to issues and start conversations.

"Having these events gives an opportunity for us to be able to educate, first, our children and to normalize... what the spectrum is, in terms of differences in sexuality and orientation," Duval said.

Duval said the event did not contain adult content, when asked about the protesters' concerns.

Anna and Evelin told CBC News it was their first time attending an Over the Rainbow Storytime event, and they really enjoyed it.


Nicholas Frew is an online reporter with CBC Edmonton who focuses mainly on data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at nick.frew@cbc.ca.

With files from Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi