D’manda Martini at Drag Story Hour in November at Brookside Gardens Credit: Photo by Michael Ventura

D’manda Martini has been performing as a drag queen for about a decade. Not until last summer did she feel she needed protection. 

The trouble started one Saturday in June, during a Drag Story Hour at the Montgomery County Public Library in Silver Spring. When Martini arrived, families were already there—but even more people were trying to come in, which struck her as odd. 

“It was this group of men in the back,” says Martini, who declines to give her real name because of safety concerns. “I got to my second or third story, and they interrupted me and were just kind of like, ‘Are you OK with mocking God?’ ”

Some protesters left then, but a couple stayed and caused another interruption before security escorted them out, Martini says. They weren’t yelling, but they seemed intent on intimidating people, she recalls. “It kind of shook me up,” Martini says. “Like, who’s taking their time out at noon on a Saturday to disrupt an event with children and be ugly?” 

Since then, protesters—including apparent right-wing Proud Boys—have descended on local Drag Story Hours. It’s a development that’s played out across the country, sometimes violently, in the past year-plus. And in November, an assailant attacked an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing five people.

Local drag performers and their advocates say the blowback has hardened their resolve and prompted them to organize to protect performers. 


Martini is among several who have hosted what is now known as Drag Story Hour, which started in 2019, throughout Montgomery County.

“Drag Story Hour has the same essential purpose as any other story hour: to promote literacy while having fun,” says Beth DiGregorio, president of Drag Story Hour DC Metro. “We focus on creating safe and welcoming spaces for queer families. … Having a drag storyteller creates an atmosphere of joy that shows children there is no wrong way to be you.” 

The readings are geared toward kids ages 2 to 12, DiGregorio says, and have included titles like Just Add Glitter by Angela DiTerlizzi, a shiny tribute to imagination, and The Kindness Book by Todd Parr, which celebrates the joy of being nice to others.

Protesters (in foreground) who objected to a Drag Story Hour in November were met by the ”Parasol Patrol,” a group of volunteers providing protection to anyone who wanted it. Credit: Photo by Michael Ventura

Conservative critics allege drag events are “grooming” children for sexual abuse and, in other parts of the country, have sought to restrict them. In June, a Texas state legislator announced he was drafting a ban on children attending drag shows, referring to “a disturbing trend in which perverted adults are obsessed with sexualizing young children.” 

Some protests at drag events have turned violent, as in an October event in Oregon in which demonstrators threw rocks and smoke grenades, outlets have reported. The November attack in Colorado Springs has prompted some drag performers who are prominent nationally to turn to armed guards, according to news reports.

After the June run-in at the Silver Spring library, Drag Story Hour DC Metro representatives met Martini at her car and walked her inside to her next three venues the following day. Those events went without a hitch, and Martini says a friend’s child, who is gender-nonconforming, helped her remember the importance of this kind of event. 


“Her kid came up to me and gave me this huge hug and was so excited to see someone like them,” Martini says. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is why I still do this.’ ” 

In response to anti-drag demonstrators, LGBTQ groups like Parasol Patrol, which formed to protect drag performers and attendees at story hours, and other Montgomery County community members, including Kristin Mink, who was elected to the Montgomery County Council in November, decided to organize counterprotests. 

“I have seen time and time again how important it is that we … really show up in a big way for the trans and nonbinary community,” Mink says. It’s a priority to not fuel a confrontation, she says, but “to make it a really positive experience for the kids and the drag queen.”


At the Kensington library in July, Christopher Hefty was in full costume as drag queen persona Bella Naughty to join the Parasol Patrol. 

Protesters “were continually trying to get into the event, and they would get in your face,” Hefty says. “People got really upset with just the fact that we were physically there and doing something fun.” 

The August and September story hours at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton proceeded without incident, Martini says. But in October, counterprotesters weren’t there—and men showed up in “Proud Boys” baseball caps, with skeleton-face bandanas over their mouths. They carried signs that said “Science is real boy or girl” and the word “Groomers” with a red X drawn across it.


Afterward, Martini says, the protesters followed her to her car, shouting insults and shooting pictures and videos. She was harassed on Twitter and other social media accounts, she says.

The Proud Boys could not be reached for comment. 

Between the Proud Boys and the Colorado shooting, safety has become a high priority for Drag Story Hour events. 


“We have a really great group of supporters who are committed to showing up to each story hour to ensure attendees are able to get from their vehicles to the event without disturbance,” DiGregorio says. With colorful umbrellas, “We call this our rainbow wall, and it is designed to shield families both from the visual of the protesters, and if necessary, we play loud Disney music to shield them from hate speech. We work with venues who are committed to the safety of families and our storytellers, and each venue will have a different safety plan based on the location and layout.”

Martini fears that she or a family member will be contacted outside of her event appearances. But she has persisted, returning to Brookside Gardens for a November reading. That time, the hostile reaction came from a smaller group. 

The Brookside Gardens events are to resume in April after a seasonal hiatus, according to DiGregorio.


Martini, for one, will be there. “If I’m reading to children, it’s to make them happy and have fun,” she says. “I firmly believe in what Drag Story Hour is, and that is reading stories to kids, to, first of all, allow kids to sort of see different kinds of people. … Being exposed to different types of people and different cultures allows children to then have empathy for all of [them]. Being a person who is LGBTQ in front of kids allows them to then [say], ‘Oh wait, these are people—these are real people.’ ”