Footage posted online shows anti-vaccination Michael Chavez berating parents, some of whom carry babies, arriving at Drag Queen Story Hour UK, an event where books promoting compassion and inclusion are read to children. Chavez goes on to falsely accuse Sab Samuel, who was acting as Aida H. Dee’s transvestite that day, of pedophilia. CNN reached out to Chavez for comment; he did not answer.
When protesters unfurled a banner reading “Welcome Groomers” outside the library, two women who pretended to be patrons disrupted a reading inside the building, calling Samuel an “adult entertainer” as they scared parents and children in the process, according to Samuel. . According to Samuel, at least one mother cried after the incident.
The term “groomer” is a homophobic stereotype used to misrepresent queer people and their supporters as child molesters.
At the end of the session, Samuel walked out of the library under police protection as demonstrators showered insults on him.
“It’s the same hate (as in the US) but in a different context… the same disgust, the same homophobia and transphobia,” Samuel, founder of Drag Queen Story Hour UK, told CNN.
According to Tim Squirrell, an expert on online extremism and director of communications at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) think tank, extremist groups in the UK are now feeling emboldened amid “the wider opposition to (queer) identities that exist in society.”
“Even people who are quite progressive in their beliefs and policies have become quite radical.[in their opposition to] this thing that worries me very, very much, not least because of the actual risk of having queer people in public, but in the US we have seen that it is connected to a much broader attempt to abolish LGBT rights,” he told CNN.
In the British Conservative leadership contest, challengers are delivering anti-transgender rhetoric and promising policies that will hinder transgender rights.
Trans people could potentially be excluded from plans to ban conversion therapy in the UK, while some religious and other anti-trans groups are campaigning against the teaching of what they call “gender ideology” or information about the existence of transgender and non-binary identities in school.
Transvestites have also been targeted by some feminists, who criticize them for what they perceive as derisive depictions of women and for being overly sexualized.
Samuel said it was this that inspired him to quit his job in marketing and found Drag Queen Story Hour UK three years ago. He said he wanted to give children a variety of role models that he didn’t have as a child. But he says death threats soon followed, with Samuel saying that in 2020, he and his boyfriend moved home because anti-LGBTQ trolls “knew where I live.”
He said last week’s incident pushed him to the brink.
Speaking to CNN, Samuel vociferously denied allegations that children attending his show are sexually abused. According to him, what he does is a public good.
Samuel, who has autism and ADHD, gave an example from the Reading event as to why he considers hours of storytelling so important. “Some autistic kids and their parents came to see me specifically because they knew I was autistic,” he said. When some of the young attendees realized that his transvestite image, Aida H. Dee, was playing with ADHD, a condition they also had, their faces lit up, he said.
“I saw sparks in the synapses of their brains, flashing with joy… (they thought) this person was amazing and just like me,” he continued.
However, as anti-transvestite protests mount, analysts are increasingly concerned about the hateful extremist discourse surrounding them.
Monday’s protest in Reading was attended by anti-vaccination Chavez as well as members of the anti-government sovereign citizens group Alpha Men Assemble, said Joe Ondrak, head of investigations at threat intelligence organization Logally.
The Alpha Men Assemble is described by the anti-extremist rights group Hope Not Hate as “an attempt to build hardcore activists and get a number of the far right involved.”
“I sincerely thought there would be some opposition to the transition to green energy, but this fell out of public discussion – so, unfortunately, the queer community became their target,” he said.
CNN has seen at least four anti-vax Telegram channels, including one with over 17,000 subscribers sharing flyers and messages protesting the Drag Queen Story Hour.
Asked why groups that appear to promote hate speech are allowed to operate on their platform, a spokesperson for Telegram said: “Telegram is a free speech platform where people can peacefully express their opinions, including what we don’t agree.” The spokesperson added that “posts that glorify or encourage violence or its perpetrators are expressly prohibited by Telegram’s terms of service and will be removed by our moderators.”
Regarding the white nationalist groups present at the protests, such as the Patriot Alternative, ISD’s Squirrell called them “profoundly homophobic.”
They believe that “white people are being systematically replaced by non-whites in Western countries,” he said. They say a “shadow cabal of Jews” is encouraging white people to adopt queer identities to reduce white birth rates — views rooted in neo-Nazi ideology,” Squirrell added.
In response to CNN’s request for comment, a spokesperson for Patriotic Alternative stated, “Drag queens are often highly sexualized caricatures of women and we believe children should be allowed to enjoy their childhoods and should not be indoctrinated by LGBT people.”
The protests continued last Thursday when Samuel visited libraries in Bristol, a city in the southwest of England known for its liberal views.
Rosie, a local parent who asked CNN not to use her last name due to concerns for her safety, told CNN she decided to take her young daughter to the event because she thinks it’s important to learn about inclusion and different communities.
“I love transvestites, I think it’s fun, it’s art, it’s laughter and something else related to books and stories,” she said.
“It was just terrible. I expected it to be joyful considering Pride was in Bristol a couple of weeks ago.” Instead, she said that the harassment by the protesters was “very backward and (I feel) naive to think there is any progress.”