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Laura Italiano
Feb 7, 2023

"Oliver H," a New York City drag king with a self-described, rainbow-colored "mohawk to the sky," has read to kids at dozens of Drag Story Hour events, many of which spurred protests.

But he knew he'd better add extra flowers when he painted on his beard for his December 29 reading at a public library in Queens.

Outside the library, some three-dozen Proud Boys, neo-Nazis, and religious activists were shouting "groomer!" And more than 200 rainbow-clad counter-protesters were banging drums and singing Lady Gaga's "Born This Way."

"I was like, you know what? This is going to be a crazy day," Oliver H, 23, told himself, as he worked to paint his makeup especially bright.

"I wanted to have a very colorful face the kids could focus on," the former daycare teacher told Insider, "instead of on everything else that was happening."

Across the country, a Proud Boys war on drag — and drag story hours in particular— has fueled record-high numbers of anti-LGBTQ+ protests, new data shows. The extremist group is showing up at roughly half of all anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

See Insider's interactive US map of what happened each of the 53 times the Proud Boys joined or led anti-LGBTQ+ protests last year.

The passionate protest at the Queens Public Library in Jackson Heights was the last of 18 drag story hours the Proud Boys targeted in 2022, and one of the year's most tense, with police deploying mace to keep the opposing sides apart. Authorities made one arrest, according to news accounts.

"We had Zoom meetings beforehand about safety measures," Oliver H told Insider of his local chapter of Drag Story Hour, a national program that for seven years has promoted these voluntary celebrations of diversity and literacy at public libraries and schools.

"But nothing could have prepared me for the grand scale of how much was happening."

Days earlier, the hometown congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, had rallied her supporters on Instagram: Go to the reading in force, the Queens Democrat urged, and "Defend Drag Story Hour in NYC!"

Her high-profile post super-charged a network of story hour "defenders," an autonomous group of concerned neighbors, parents and community members, including from Jews for Racial & Economic Justice.

Many brought big, rainbow umbrellas and musical instruments, to shield children and parents from homophobic shouting and signage.

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