Hecklers prompt Columbus LGBT group to change Drag Queen Story Time. This video shows why

Citing the safety of children who attend the event, the leader of the Columbus LGBT group that produces the monthly Drag Queen Story Time said the next session will be online-only after police were called in response to hecklers disrupting the previous gathering.

“They come out here to cast condemnation upon us,” ColGay Pride director Jeremy Hobbs told the Ledger-Enquirer. “They try to make us to be the villain, but they turn out to be the boogeyman by cursing and hollering and screaming at the top of their lungs about something they have no idea what they’re talking about.

“… My first and No. 1 priority is kids’ safety and what they’re hearing, and I’m not going to set them up to be exposed to this kind of stuff.”

The next Drag Queen Story Time will be live-streamed Sept. 30 on ColGay Pride’s Facebook page, starting at 6 p.m.

In place of the in-person story time this week, ColGay Pride will conduct a different event Oct. 1 on the median at the 1100 block of Broadway. The Family Fun Hour, starting at 6 p.m., will include games, singalongs, refreshments, prizes and performances by Mr., Ms. and Mixed Columbus, Georgia, Pride. ColGay Pride will pay for two off-duty police officers to provide security at the event, Hobbs said.

“Everybody does have a right of speech,” he said. “But I don’t go to your church and sit out front and yell and picket and everything else because you’re teaching condemnation.”

To anyone who would say he is letting the protesters win by moving the story time to online-only, Hobbs said, “They can say whatever they want to. These kids are our No. 1 concern. … If I see something could be potentially worse or grow to be a bad thing, I’m not going to expose them to that.”

Jeremy Hobbs, director of ColGay Pride. 09/27/2022
Jeremy Hobbs, director of ColGay Pride. 09/27/2022

Origin of Drag Queen Story Time

ColGay Pride started the local version of the Drag Queen Story Time three years ago to further its mission of promoting diversity, equality and justice in the community, Hobbs said. The program also teaches children how to identify bullies and stand up for those who are bullied, he said.

The Drag Queen Story Time used to be in the Mildred L. Terry Public Library, but ColGay Pride moved the program to the median at the 1100 block of Broadway due to the COVID pandemic. Hobbs hopes to move the story time back to one of the city’s public libraries.

During the story time, a drag queen reads aloud two children’s books that celebrate diversity.

“It’s much needed,” Hobbs said, “especially with everything we see going on in the world today — all the hate, all the violence — and kids at school still dealing with bullies.”

Music, singalongs, refreshments and prizes also are part of the hour-long event.

The disruption

On Sept. 3, with about 30 people attending the event, Hobbs noticed an additional group of approximately 15 people he didn’t recognize standing off to the side. He recalled a man yelling, “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

Protesters periodically have gathered a block away to demonstrate against the Drag Queen Story Time, but this was the first time they were on the median and disrupting the event, Hobbs said.

“They started talking over the performers, over the storytellers,” he said. “It became a really intense situation. The parents, I have to commend, got up, stood up and blocked them off, but they can’t block off the noise.”

Hobbs called 911. Two police officers arrived on the scene 5 minutes later and “pushed them back off the (median) to the sidelines,” he said.

As soon as the police left, Hobbs said, the protesters got louder. A man on one side of the street used a bullhorn to heckle the story time while a man on the other side of the street used a microphone and speaker.

Hobbs again called 911. Approximately six police officers arrived on the scene 3 minutes later and “walked them off the property,” he said. “They didn’t come back after that.”

The disruption lasted roughly 30 minutes, Hobbs said.

Although no threats were made against anyone in attendance, Hobbs said the heckling “seemed more like an assault. They came at us from both sides, trying to intimidate us. … I can’t let the kids see these kinds of things because, my God, they see enough as it is on TV every day with everything that’s going on in the world. … It got a little scary a couple times because of how close they were getting.”

Hobbs recalled hearing a police officer tell one of the hecklers, “If you don’t leave, you’re going to jail.”

The video

Sammie Saxon, a professional photographer, was photographing a model across from Sept. 3 story time on Broadway when he heard the disruption. He videoed part of the incident with his cellphone. The 3:12 video was posted on YouTube Sept. 6 with the headline “Y’all Qaeda harassing a pride event in Columbus, Ga.”

In the video, a heckler points to the story time and uses a microphone to yell, “Your business is not for the children. Your business is adult entertainment. Take it back to the adult entertainment store. We don’t need this.”

A minute later, he yells, “Leave the children alone. That’s right. Leave the children alone. Your conduct is for after-hours.”

Then, directing his criticism to the parents at the event, he yells, “You ought to protect your children. You are subjugating your children to evil. You know you are.”

Saxon explained his reaction to the heckling.

“You see this online everywhere else,” he told the L-E. “Columbus is such a welcoming, friendly environment, but it doesn’t feel like it’s Columbus at that point. It’s like, ‘Where are we?’ … It was just extremely upsetting and disappointing.”

Sammie Saxon is a professional photographer in Columbus, Georgia. 09/28/2022
Sammie Saxon is a professional photographer in Columbus, Georgia. 09/28/2022

The aftermath

No police report about the incident was available when the Ledger-Enquirer checked. Hobbs said he was satisfied with the police response and his meeting with Columbus Police Department Chief Freddie Blackmon and Sgt. Mark Scruggs department’s LGBT liaison, to discuss the incident. Scruggs referred the L-E’s inquiry to CPD spokeswoman Brittany Santiago, who emailed the L-E the following statement:

“We are aware of the incident that happened Saturday, September 3, 2022, around 6:23 p.m. Our officers were dispatched to 1100 Broadway in reference to people who were disrupting a gathering that was hosted by the COLGAY Pride organization. Our officers were able to peacefully de-escalate the situation and COLGAY Pride was able to complete their event. COLGAY Pride had an approved permit through the Columbus Police Department to gather that evening.

“Please note, citizens are allowed to ‘peaceably’ assemble as part of their rights outlined in the First Amendment. We strongly encourage organizers of gatherings to submit a permit through CPD before assembling so that we are aware of the event(s) and the safety measures that may need to be put in place.”

Hobbs appreciates not seeing any parents take their children away from the story time during the heckling. He also praised the drag queen for handling the situation with “grace and elegance and poise. … We’re not going to holler back at them because that only incites them more.”

The drag queen used the heckling as a teachable moment, Hobbs recalled, telling the children, “What they’re doing, you don’t have to do. You can lift each other up. We give hugs hear. We don’t yell and scream at one another.”

Hobbs added, “We’re just trying to teach love, acceptance, diversity. I mean, that’s the fundamentals of a better society.”