As It Happens

Drag queen keeps reading to kids after group of men disrupt Pride event yelling slurs

When a group of men disrupted a Pride event at California library on Saturday, a security guard rushed San Francisco drag queen Panda Dulce to safety. But a few minutes later, after police had removed the threat, Dulce gathered herself up, went back out, and finished the job she was hired to do  — reading positive, affirming LGBTQ stories to children and their families. 

‘I refuse to be intimidated,’ says California’s Panda Dulce after disruption linked to Proud Boys 

Panda Dulce is a San Francisco drag queen. She was participating in a Drag Queen Story Hour for kids on Saturday when a group of men, reportedly linked to the Proud Boys, stormed the library and demanded the event come to an immediate end. (Submitted by Panda Dulce)

Story Transcript

When a group of men disrupted a Pride event at California library on Saturday, a security guard rushed San Francisco drag queen Panda Dulce to safety. 

But a few minutes later, after police had removed the threat, Dulce gathered herself up, went back out, and finished the job she was hired to do  — reading positive, affirming LGBTQ stories to children and their families. 

"I was terrified because I knew that this was something I had to do, and I knew I was putting myself in danger to do it, and I had to push through," Dulce told As It Happens guest host Catherine Cullen. "But I will say that I was looking over my shoulder the entire time."

Police say they are investigating a possible hate crime after at least five men entered the San Lorenzo Library in California's San Francisco Bay Area, disrupting Drag Queen Story Hour by yelling homophobic and transphobic slurs. Nobody was harmed, and nobody has been arrested.

The disprution happened on the same day that 31 members of a neo-Nazi group were arrested near a Pride event in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. 

Authorities say the men at the San Lorenzo Library appeared to be members of the Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Centre classifies as a hate group.

"The men were described as extremely aggressive with a threatening violent demeanour causing people to fear for their safety," Lt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office said in a press release. "Deputies responded to the scene and were able to de-escalate the situation."

Explaining it to the kids

Dulce was in the middle of reading to the kids when the men piled into the library and sat behind the children and their parents, she said. She says they were wearing yellow and black, the colours associated with the Proud Boys. 

"They started calling me names — groomer, a pedophile —  and just lambasting me," she said. 

CBC has reviewed several social media videos that confirm Dulce's version of events. The men can be heard calling Dulce "sick" and "a thing." They call the parents and library staff "Godless wh---s," and demand the event come to an immediate end for the protection of the children. One is sporting a T-shirt with an assault rifle and the words: "Kill your local pedophile."

I think when the right says they want to protect children, what they forget conveniently is that there are queer children. There are trans children. There are children who have seen violence and do not wish to inflict violence on others just because they're different.- Panda Dulce, drag queen

The parents and library staff immediately came to Dulce's defence, she said, telling the men they were not welcome at this children's event. But they refused to leave.

"I realized that I was not helping the situation by being present, and the best way to de-escalate this would be for me to leave," Dulce said.

A security officer escorted her to safety while police removed the men from the event.

"After I collected myself, the librarians came back and they asked, you know, 'What do you want to do? It's totally fine if you want to go home,'" she said.

"We all agreed that we wanted to continue the reading. We wanted to send a message that regardless of their shenanigans — regardless of coming in, interrupting; regardless of their flawed creed — that their interruption could not disrupt our programming."

It's a sentiment echoed by the library staff.

"Libraries are open to all and are places that foster inclusion of all our communities. Attempts to intimidate and silence others are not tolerated in libraries," Alameda County Library said in an emailed statement sent by spokesperson Alicia Reyes.

When she returned, Dulce says she could tell the kids were confused and frightened. She knew she had to address what had just happened in a way they could understand.

"I said, 'When you're different, people are going to fear you and they will project whatever narratives and hysteria they've spun about you onto you. And I think what's important is that you continue doing you,''" Dulce said. "It's a very simple message, but I just hope that they took away what they needed to from that."

The importance of Drag Queen Story Hour 

Drag Queen children's story readings have become a pivotal part of family-friendly Pride programming, and a focal point of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, with libraries facing public backlash and participants reporting online harassment. But Dulce says it's important work. 

"I did not have queer icons to look up to and I didn't have representation to model myself after," Dulce said. "And when you do story hour, sometimes there are queer kids, and you can really tell because they light up in a way where you just know, and you have that immediate connection…. Words can't capture what that feels like."

A drag queen in a bright blue week and floral print dress holds a children'ts picture book in one hand and a microphone in the other.
Panda Dulce, a San Francisco drag queen, participating in a Drag Queen Story Hour event. (Submitted by Panda Dulce)

That's why she decided to keep reading on Saturday, even as her heart was hammering in her chest. It's also why she will keep participating in these kind of events.

"I refuse to be intimidated by people who have myopic worldviews and just want to project it on everyone around them," Dulce said.

"I think when the right says they want to protect children, what they forget conveniently is that there are queer children. There are trans children. There are children who have seen violence and do not wish to inflict violence on others just because they're different.

"Drag Queen Story Hour is for these kids and these parents and these families, and we're not going to stop. These people have clearly never met a drag queen before, because drag queens do not do obscurity. Queer people do not do quiet. We know that silence equals death, and we are not going to back down. We are not going to shrink back into the closet."


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Panda Dulce produced by Chris Harbord.

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