As Daily Kos continues to highlight, Republicans and far-right conservatives are stomping down hard on book access in public schools and libraries as we approach midterm elections. By and large, targeted books are written by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ folks, and themes often include sexuality, sexual abuse, and racism. Anti-book efforts have spread at school board meetings across the country, thanks in part to hyper-conservative groups like Moms for Liberty stoking hysteria.
In addition to critical race theory (CRT) fearmongering, conservatives have started to attack LGBTQ+ books by framing them as inherently “inappropriate” or “obscene.” This framing relies on old anti-queer hate speech that positions queerness as innately predatory and sexual, and therefore inappropriate for young people—just think about how often we’re hearing conservatives toss out words like “grooming” nowadays.
With all of this in mind, we’ve seen some seriously scary stuff surrounding queer books and even queer-friendly and inclusive book events, like librarians getting threats over hosting drag queen story hours or restaurants hosting family-friendly drag brunches. As reported by The Montana Free Press, however, we have some hope and inspiration coming out of an independent, LGBTQ+ owned bookstore in Helena, Montana, which flatly refused to cancel its drag queen story hour after receiving backlash and calls for boycotts.
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According to the outlet, at least one self-proclaimed member of the far-right Oath Keepers group took to social media with a promise to “shut this demonic preying on children down” which … sounds like a threat if I’ve ever heard one. But okay. Chelsia Rice and Charlie Crawford, who own the Montana Book Company, reached out on their own social media to ask for the community’s support around the event. And show up to support they did.
An estimated 100 community members, plus veterans and law enforcement officers, showed up for the event. Many folks wore Pride attire and played music while the storytime event happened inside.
“What we really need to do now is we need a colossal showing of support,” Julie Yard, one of the drag queens participating in the event, explained to the outlet, adding that she told folks at the event that she hoped supporters could outnumber protesters 200 to 1.
Veteran Kai Bauer told the outlet that the bookstore is actually a “safe haven” for a lot of people, including young folks, and that’s part of why they showed up to help protect the space.
“I felt truly alone here as a baby gay in the late 80s/early 90s and to see the support,” Crawford wrote in an Instagram caption after the event back in July, adding that it makes them “so happy” for the young and new members of the LGBTQ+ community to see all of this support now.
But this isn’t the only time they’ve faced scary situations. In June, for example, a man reportedly entered the bookstore armed with a pistol strapped to his chest; according to Crawford and Rice, he refused to leave the store when they let him know guns weren’t allowed inside. They called 911 and the man exited before the police made it to the scene, but it’s understandable why this would be upsetting and intimidating.
Conservatives are trying to turn public opinion against queer people as an easy way to get their voter base upset and distracted. Instead of talking about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, Republicans would rather get people upset and confused about things like trans health care and library books in order to get their votes. It’s cruel and harmful, and it’s really nothing new.
This is another example of why we need to focus on all levels of government when it comes to elections, including local elections and school boards. Book bans and anti-queer movements are, sadly, developing from the bottom up and we can’t shrug it off until it comes to our own neighborhoods or states. By then, it might be too late.