Vowing that “we aren’t going anywhere,” the performer King Art Babe forged ahead Tuesday evening with the Alameda County Library’s first Drag Queen Story Hour event since a group of apparent Proud Boys members disrupted another reading earlier this month in San Lorenzo.
No disruptions were reported Tuesday as the performer — bedazzled in heels, rainbow stockings, a frilly blue dress and a unicorn tiara — held a group of preschoolers and kindergarteners in rapt attention, flipping through several books about Pride parades and dressing in drag. Often, she stopped to remark on the characters’ lavish outfits.
“Who likes to dress up?” King Art Babe asked the children, as several hands shot up. “I like to dress up as a princess, too.”
The event at the Castro Valley Library came as the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office continued its investigation into an incident at the library system’s last story hour on June 11, when authorities say at least five men who appeared aligned with the far-right extremist Proud Boys group barged into a reading at the San Lorenzo Library. The men acted “very aggressive” while hurling homophobic and transphobic slurs at the story hour’s performer, a sheriff’s spokesman said.
At one point, the library’s staff helped the performer, Panda Dulce, flee to a back room while others called the sheriff’s office for help. Dulce later returned to finish the reading after deputies responded and the apparent Proud Boys members left.
The June 11 incident garnered national attention amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric across the country in recent weeks. Detectives have since initiated a hate crimes investigation into the incident, though Alameda County sheriff’s investigators are still working with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether what happened June 11 was a crime or protected speech. No arrests had been announced.
On Tuesday, dueling protesters and supporters of the story hour waved signs outside the library as about 15 children and 20 adults shuffled inside for two readings by Carrie King, 52, who has performed as King Art Babe for about four years.
King acknowledged that Tuesday’s felt different than other performances — adding that her husband initially wanted her to cancel hours beforehand.
“It’s more important that we don’t let hate win,” said King, pointing to Panda Dulce’s decision to continue reading after being confronted in San Lorenzo. “I thought, ‘If she could do that, after what horrific experience, I can do the Castro Valley reading.’”
Smiling through glittery purple lipstick, King flipped through four books and led the children in two songs – including a lively rendition of “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish,” sung to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus.”
One book – illustrated by King herself – detailed a girl’s relationship with an uncle who enjoyed dressing in drag. One scene depicted several people shouting their disapproval at the girl’s uncle – prompting King to remark “that’s not very nice.” Drag, the book countered, “was for everyone.”
“This is something that is completely wholesome, family-friendly and just fun — it’s just joyful,” King said after the reading.
The reading offered a chance to normalize drag and LGBTQ Pride — helping children understand that there’s nothing wrong with it, said Julia Ramirez, who attended the event with her husband and their 4-year-old son, Javier. She said they came because “we’re not going to be afraid.”
“Things that are unknown are what’s scary to people,” Julia Ramirez said. “The more he’s exposed to, the less he sees things as weird or not normal.”
Ambika Najaraj, of Castro Valley, agreed. Her daughter – an avid unicorn fan – gave the performance a thumb’s up, not the least because of the performer’s unicorn tiara.
“I want to normalize it,” Nagaraj said. “I think this is probably the best story time of her life so far.”
While King read, about a dozen opponents stood outside the library holding signs declaring “There is no pride before sin,” and “Pride goes before the destruction.” Waving a Christian flag, Manny Morales, 53, of Castro Valley, decried how the event was aimed at preschoolers and kindergarteners.
“I don’t think children should be exposed to this type of behavior,” said Morales. “Children should live an innocent life. Kids need to be left alone.”
Standing just a few steps away with a group of several dozen supporters, Renee Rettig, 51, said she was “happy” to co-exist with opponents protesting peacefully. Still, she was “heartened” by how many more supporters came to the library – about 50 of whom waved flags and signs declaring “Love trumps hate.”.
As the owner of the Books on B bookstore in Hayward, Rettig has hosted several Drag Queen Story Hour events in the past. But she said Tuesday’s event took on a special significance in light of what happened in San Lorenzo.
“To think they had to go through that experience is just traumatizing,” Rettig said. “You definitely have to jump back in the saddle and double down on kindness. Kids are paying attention.”