Wearing skeleton-face masks and carrying signs, members of the extreme right-wing group Proud Boys showed up Saturday to protest at an outdoor session of Drag Queen Story Hour at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton.
The group of men, wearing baseball caps with the Proud Boys insignia, lined up outside the visitors center at the gardens in Wheaton Regional Park and carried signs that included the phrases “Science is Real Boy or Girl” and “Groomer” crossed out with a red “X,” according to a photo posted on Twitter by Washington Post columnist and deputy editorial page editor Karen Tumulty.
“Peak 2022. On my walk this morning at a local park, I happened to come across Proud Boys awaiting the beginning of Drag Queen Story Hour,” Tumulty tweeted Saturday.
In an interview with Bethesda Beat, Tumulty said she was going for a walk at the park with a friend when she saw the group of men wearing black T-shirts that read “American Proud Boy.” She said there was about 20 in total. Drag Queen Story Hour is part of an international program in which performers read stories to children in libraries, schools and bookstores. The event had been a regular occurrence at Brookside Gardens
D’Manda Martini, Saturday’s performer, tweeted about the interruption to the story hour. “Another @DQSHtweets interrupted by protestors. This time with giant signs & masks. They followed me to my car, got pics & videos of me & my car and shouted ugly things the whole time as I was being escorted out,” Martini wrote.
Martini followed with another tweet that said, “The families that came to listen to stories were absolutely lovely. I hope they truly enjoyed the books that I read today. The organizers did everything they could to keep me as safe as possible.”
In a third tweet, Martini wrote, “Unfortunately even with police & employee escort did not stop the mask wearing, giant sign holding, slur shouting cowards who came from taking my picture, pictures of my car, and verbally assaulting me.”
When asked Monday about the protest, Montgomery Parks released the following statement:
“While we respect the rights of people to peacefully protest, the safety of program attendees, park users, and staff is our number one priority. Each event is staffed with Montgomery Parks’ Park Police to help prevent any incidents. Montgomery Parks is pleased to host Drag Queen Story Hour, an inclusive program to help children understand the world around them in a fun way that uses storytelling and imagination.”
In recent months, anti-LGBTQ protesters have disrupted a number of the story hours across the country. In Montgomery County, protesters have shown up at local story hours, including a session earlier this summer at Loyalty Bookstore in downtown Silver Spring.
In August, in anticipation of a possible protest, local LGBTQ activists gathered at Brookside Gardens for a session of Drag Queen Story Hour. Families were greeted by activists who held up rainbow flags and colorful sheets as they lined a sidewalk.
Kristin Mink, a community organizer and the Democratic candidate for County Council District 5 who helped organize LGBTQ activists for the August event, called on activists to again show their support.
“What we’ve seen today is that the LGBTQ+ community is under attack even here in liberal MoCo. So we cannot let our guard down. And we won’t. I know that whatever it takes to make clear that this is a place where we protect & celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, we will do it,” she wrote Saturday on Twitter.
Tumulty said she spoke on Saturday to some parents at the event who have brought their children to other Drag Queen Story Hour sessions and told her there had never been an incident like Saturday’s protest.
Martini declined to comment.
Contact information for a local representative of the Proud Boys could not be immediately determined.