What I thought would be a rather small, local story in the South East Queensland area, having first seen the associated video on a Facebook group for QUT, has turned into a national story with the Guardian, the ABC, and social media (mainly Twitter) taking hold of it. I’m surprised that I’m surprised about that, and I decided against writing a post about it last night, but with more information coming to light and some interactions I have seen take place, I feel it’s worth discussing a few points.
***UPDATE*** It has been confirmed that the man who led this protest has since died by suicide. While I, and many others, disagreed with his views and actions yesterday, I feel it necessary to add this as I found out (minutes after posting) and can only offer solemn condolences to his family and friends.
The Brisbane Square Library was hosting a public event where a pair of drag queens were telling stories, singing songs, and doing craft activities with children and their parents. Commonly known as Story Time, their purpose is to engage children with reading and other skills in a much more diverse setting than most other environments, generally taking place in libraries around the world.
Yesterday, a group of people arrived at the Brisbane Square Library and interrupted the event, loudly chanting in the faces of the drag queens, with families and children stuck in the room. “Drag queens are not for kids,” they intoned as one of the drag queens tried to engage with them, all of which was filmed. The group was quickly led out by security. I saw the video on a Facebook group, but the original poster (an LGBT+ author not involved with this event) had deleted it within minutes due to hateful comments against them on their professional page.
This brings up a number of questions.
- Who were the group of protestors?
- What would have been the better course of action?
- What is going to be the fallout of this?
- And, to play devil’s advocate with the conversation out there, should drag queens be doing events with children?
The UQ Young LNP Club has been the core target in the media as the group behind the protest. And old friend of mine from high school, who is part of the Club now, said that was a lie and only six people there were a part of the Club, with the rest being “hardcore Catholics”. Even if that is the case, however, the President of the Club fronted the group and the claim was that they were defending the values of the LNP. This means either it was a Club-led protest, or there will be dissent among them just as there was with the real LNP last month.
Because the Club lost its official endorsement after the Gold Coast schoolies video reached similar notoriety, where two Young LNP members interviewed partygoers about politics. The idea sounds bad enough, given the likely political acumen of drunken teenagers at the GC (negligible), but they went a step further when a plant – revealed by photos of him in LNP campaign apparel after the fact – called himself a “bit of a leftie” and said, to mischievous laughter and grins, that we should stop paying attention to a culture that didn’t invent the wheel. That is, get lost, you Indigenous dullards, us white folk are superior.
This resulted in a major news story, sending the LNP into damage control by expelling members involved and “cutting ties” with the Young LNP group, including the UQ Club branch. Now, calling it damage control may be cynical – I do believe some of the higher ups when they say that they are truly against such blatant forms of racism – but clearly their party, to some extent, foments these views. Beyond that, the Coalition’s policies regarding the Indigenous are incredibly lacklustre, and institutionalised racism is still a major concern today in numerous fields.
Similarly, this event has sparked a quick reaction from the LNP. Deb Frecklington, QLD’s sexist LNP Opposition Leader, has emphasised how disconnected the UQ Club is from them, and gay LNP Federal MP, Trevor Evans, called the protestors “ratbags”, stating that the values of the LNP were not represented by them at all. The most obvious giveaway should be that the Brisbane City Council, heavily LNP, agreed to the event.
The protest was, ostensibly, against the use of public funds from the Council being used to promote things like drag queens, particularly for children’s events. I feel, however, that if that were the case, there are numerous ways these concerns could be voiced that are more practical and less intrusive. They could have communicated with the BCC, the Library, or even the drag queens themselves and expressed themselves in the way their Party likes to pretend they care about – civilly.
But what they chose to do was gate crash a public event by chanting, stone faced, outside a room full of children. One man looked incredibly nervous, licking his lips as he told whoever was filming that they didn’t have permission to do so while his colleagues harassed a couple of entertainers. Parents at the event said they and the children did not feel safe, as they were stuck in the room while this all took place. I have, incorrectly I realise, thus far referred to this as a protest – but this was purely intimidation. Police were called, and security had them out of the building within minutes.
This is where it gets rather interesting – what will public opinion about this actually be, and will it change any minds? I think the past few months has provided us with enough evidence to say nothing will really change.
The bushfire crisis rages on, and, despite all his attempts, Scott Morrison still has not recovered from the immense backlash. There are, however, segments of the population (read Murdoch press consumers) that continue to blame the Greens, Labor, and environmentalists for the severity of the fires, no matter how often their accusations are refuted. They also believe the “treatment” of Morrison has been uncalled for and appalling, trying in some vain attempt to rescue the image of their distant, out-of-reality leader.
While these fires may indeed be the tipping point for some, even such widespread destruction cannot convince some to shift their votes. The racism in the GC video also changed very few minds. You have those who were (rightfully) outraged about it, but many LNP voters either flocked to those who disassociated themselves with those comments (but not the inherently racist policies or environments that foster them), or those who agree with the wretched remarks. On one side, it further proved the disgusting inner nature of the Coalition, and on the other it only served to consolidate their positions, resulting in increased polarisation.
Here, with an even more divisive topic (LGBT+ people) this polarisation is even more pronounced. People either believe drag queens can be around kids or that they should not be, and negative press against a small group of easily disposable fools will not affect these opinions. It will draw justified outrage from some and draw opposition and ire from others. The latter will only try and use this to promote their anti-LGBT+ platform, saying that their “freedom of speech and expression” is under attack. Again, if their motive was discussion, there were other avenues – but that was not the intent or goal.
So, the intrusion took place, the news spread, tensions flared, and (while I hope to be wrong) I don’t see many opinions being changed on the matter.
That takes me to the last question – should drag queens be able to carry out events with children present? Well, why not? What precludes them from being able to provide a morning or afternoon’s entertainment to families? The stigma surrounding this does stem from the fact such performers are usually involved with bars and nightclubs, places and content that would not be suitable for young kids. So yes, obviously overly sexualised or explicit adult content should not be brought to children, but that’s not what Story Time is from what I’ve read.
In this particular case, the two drag queens had blue cards, were (from the video) dressed in eccentric but entirely appropriate costumes, and (with parents present) going through children’s stories, songs, and craft. It was safe, open, and inclusive fun that the kids, from parental accounts, found enjoyable. The only real difference between this and any other small event like it is that drag queens were the hosts.
I know a few drag queens (not personally, but old acquaintances on my Facebook), and the people, from my experience and observations, are brilliant, and their confidence and love for what they do and who they are is something I respect and admire, even if it’s not my cup of tea; I’m a simple man, and the extravagance and brightness is a bit much for my tastes. If there are some who wish to expand their horizons to creating a safe, inclusive environment for children to learn about and accept those who are “different”, then that is doubly commendable, and I fully support such projects taking place, like Story Time events.
The other factor is the parents. If the parents were not comfortable with what was being said or done by the drag queens at these events, then they would take their children away or simply not attend them. It’s not that difficult to acknowledge something exists and leaving it at that. The groups of intruders yesterday is what actually made people uncomfortable. If the UQ LNP Club or the “hardcore Catholics” really cared about the children, they would not have so menacingly (from a child’s perspective) harassed the drag queens in front of them like a mini mob. They were not there for the kids, they were there to cause trouble because of their misguided beliefs and internal hatred for the drag queens and the LGBT+ community as a whole.
It is still being spoken about, and probably will be for a while yet. Hopefully it can be used to bring up productive conversations about how such programs can be used to help children and communities, or about furthering the acceptance of the drag community itself and their role in society. To focus entirely on the controversy and outrage, like what happened with the GC video, would be a mistake and have little worth beyond those who were directly affected and a week of emotionally high discourse (not implying that that is bad, but we can turn this into something more positive in the long run).
I would like to know how this goes down in the UQ LNP Club, although I doubt my old friend in it would be willing to discuss it too deeply.
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