Counter-protesters in support of the latest Reading With Royalty spread their wings on Monday, echoing the method used to silently protest the Westboro Baptist Church after the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard.
Shepard, who was an openly gay University of Wyoming student, had his funeral picketed by members of that church with anti-gay messaging.
Counter-protesters donned large pink wings and lined up along the main entrance to Vivo, where the Country Hills Library is located, in response to continued planned protests of the Calgary Public Library’s longstanding literacy program.
“In recognition of the attacks on [Reading With Royalty], the community has come together to build the wings, which has been really inspiring and to show this visible protection, and support this idea that like there’s lots of people here for you and the community shows up to help itself,” said James Demers, one of counter-protest organizers.
Romaine Patterson, one of Shepard’s friends, organized a counter-protest during the trial of his killers against the church whereby members would wear large wings to block the view of protest signs.
That same symbolism of silently protesting against the current members of the anti-drag, anti-trans protest group, which has frequently protested Calgary drag events, was a direct link back to that original counter-protest said Demers.
Calgary Police were on hand to keep the peace at the counter-protest, with only a pair of protesters entering within 100 metres of the entrance to Vivo.
Derek Reimer, who has been arrested twice at Reading With Royalty events, protested briefly several blocks away from the library on the median of Country Hills Boulevard and Harvest Hills Boulevard NE.
Protesters out of step with the beliefs of Canadians
Deborah Donovan, who took her grandchildren to the reading event, said that the presence of the counter-protesters didn’t bother her at all.
“I’m supportive of the counter-protesters,” she said.
She said that the attitude of the protesters was out of step with society.
“Their time has long gone. I really think that they’re living in another century,” Donovan said.
“I think it’s ridiculous, and it’s almost Americanized, isn’t it? It’s Something you see in the Deep South—stay there.”
Demers himself liked the continued protests to the moral panics of the 1970s, with messages akin to those spread by anti-gay activist Anita Byrant—who in 1977 was involved in the Save Our Children campaign, which falsely accused the gay community of being child molesters.
“We saw these kinds of arguments used against gay men in the ’70s and ’80s, and we’ve just picked them up wholesale and dumped them on trans and gender diverse people for no reason other than it creates a hysteria,” Demers said.
A frequently used slur against the transgender and drag communities at protests in Calgary, including that of Monday’s, is that the transgender community is grooming children.
Event attended by individuals from all walks of life
Demers said that members of the broader Calgary community showing up attend events like Reading With Royalty was more important than for just members of the queer community to show up.
“It’s actually more important for the general community to show up for us, because everyone knows a queer person. We’re part of your family we’re your co-workers, we’re your neighbours,” he said.
“It’s really powerful for allies to show up to do this because allies are going to be in a position to have conversations with people who will never talk to a queer person… we will always show up for ourselves—the community has a 50-year history of doing that—but if you are a supporter, this is a good time to show up.”
Drag King Shane Onyou was one of the readers at the literacy program on Monday.
He said that having the counter-protesters there to ensure safe passage to the library was “huge.”
“These [protesters] are unpredictable, and they can be quite scary,” Onyou said.
He said that individuals from all walks of life attended his session, where he read Bye Bye, Binary and My Rainbows.
“The kids had such a blast. They were singing and dancing, we read great books, and it was really good,” Onyou said.
As for Onyou’s outfit, it consisted of sequined boots, blue jeans, a sequined jacket, and a very shiny peaked cap.