Dressed in glittery makeup and a Cookie Monster-themed dress, drag queen Katie Rockswell sat in front of a group of children and their parents, reading aloud the book “A Family Is a Family Is a Family.”
One of the audience members, 13-year-old Shannon Daily, who identifies as gay, later summed up the book’s moral: “Love your family no matter what.”
The Spokane Public Library on the South Hill hosted a Drag Queen Story Hour on Saturday for about 50 children and their families, but dozens of children were turned away because the reading room filled up.
Outside, on the library’s lawn and sidewalk, about 400 gay-rights activists stood in support of the library, while across South Perry Street, about 200 protesters held signs and voiced their opposition, several speaking through megaphones.
About 40 police officers surveyed the crowds, and police arrested one protester for repeatedly trying to enter the nondesignated protesting area, said Sgt. Terry Preuniger of the Spokane Police Department. Besides that, he said, the event went smoothly.
From looking at online conversations, police expected to see people armed on both sides, which resulted in a strong police presence on Saturday, he said, but no civilians showed up openly carrying guns.
During the book reading, kids sang, cheered and laughed while Rockswell and another drag queen, Tirrany Hex, read the books. The story time event lasted for about half an hour.
“It went really well,” said Rockswell. “I think the parents were more excited than the kids.”
“Drag queens are frickin’ awesome,” said Pamela Moye, who brought her two children to the book reading specifically for the drag-queen element. “Their makeup is better than mine. I go to drag shows all the time, but I can’t bring my kids.”
Moye explained the protesters to her children by saying they don’t think people should love the same sex. Her kids replied: “That’s not right,” she said.
Standing shyly next to Moye, her daughter Madison, 5, said she liked the balloons and the candy, as she held open her palm to reveal a grape Nerds box.
Daily’s parents brought her and her brother Sean Daily, 6, who chose to wear a dress to the event after learning about the Drag Queen Story Hour and the people who opposed it.
“He has love for everybody,” said Justine Daily, Sean and Shannon’s mom. Her husband, Goff Daily, said he explains the protesters to their children by saying they come from a place of misunderstanding and fear.
“If Jesus was around today, he would be on this side,” he said.
Across South Perry Street, Tina Humphries stood with the protesters: It was the first time that she has publicly protested.
“I’m tired of (their ideas) being shoved down our throats all the time,” she said. “I’m tired of public facilities being used to further the agenda of the far left,” and that includes the downtown library using resources for homeless people.
Humphries, who has four children, said she is raising them heterosexual: “If you’re a boy, you don’t wear a dress,” she said.
The protest was hosted by Anna Bohach, who leads a Facebook group called 500 Mom Strong. In Bohach’s op-ed published in The Spokesman-Review on Friday, she said drag queens support a toxic environment that demeans woman.
“They had way more (supporters) than we did, which I expected, but it went really well,” Bohach said. “The police presence was a little ridiculous. They had snipers on the roofs. They wouldn’t allow us into the library.”
The library’s spokesperson, Amanda Donovan, said that when the Drag Queen Story Hour was booked, she researched to see how other cities reacted to similar events.
“The level of support always exceeded the level of dissent,” she said about seeing similar events. “We definitely expected this reaction.”
The Spokane Public Library filled up the room for the story reading within hours after security guards used metal detector wands on the entering kids and their families. Staff had to turn away dozens of children, but a second Drag Queen Story Hour, at the Spokane Public Library in downtown next Saturday at 2 p.m., will have more room.
Donovan said she’s unsure if the library will need as much of a police presence at the next event, but it’s possible.
“We’re coming next week,” Bohach said, “and we’re going to have even more moms.”
Rockswell wrapped up the reading of the book by giving the children in the reading room a message about acceptance.
“It’s important we know that if people don’t look like us, then they are A-OK,” Rockswell said.