“Boots on the ground warriors!”
“Drag events + children = FUCK NO!”
“We’re shutting this shit down!”
These are phrases taken from Facebook posts by people opposed to Drag Me to Dinner, a sold-out family-friendly drag event featuring performances, a sing-along and story time, to be held at the Kings Arms Pub in Kentville on June 3.
A Facebook event has been created calling for people to gather outside the pub “to voice our concerns and objection to DRAG events involving children under 18!” and to “protect our kids.”
Pub owner Joey Murphy posted what he called his “one, and only statement” on the issue on Facebook. It reads:
I support inclusivity and diversity in my community. I respect and support everyone’s right to make their own choices and to live their own lives. I support all members of my community with the exception of anyone who shares hate and misinformation.
Asked by the Examiner if he was willing to comment further, Murphy said in an email, “I am firm and concrete on this matter and quite simply my post says all I need to say.”
Yesterday, the pub created a Facebook event called “Come together 2023,” promising “live music and other entertainment outside at our side patio” from noon to six on June 3. (The drag event inside is set to start at 4:30.) The graphic for the event features a spraypaint-style image of a heart in rainbow colours, and a crown.
Meanwhile, the pub’s Google Reviews have in recent days become a venue for community members to thank the pub for its stand on inclusivity. There is a slew of new five-star reviews with comments such as, “It’s awesome to know I can have some great pub food in a bigot free zone surrounded by drag queens.”
But the kind of ramped-up rhetoric elicited by a drag show that until recently would have been completely unremarkable raises concerns about attacks on the rights of Nova Scotians.
“We need to be standing stronger in community to be able to combat the slippage that I see, that we’re moving backwards in some ways,” Susan Litke said yesterday. Litke, past chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, was speaking at a press conference held by NDP MLA and 2SLGBTQ+ spokesperson Lisa Lachance, to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
Litke was working at home on April 5, when she heard a knock at her door. Outside, she found the progressive pride flag which had been hanging outside for years torn to shreds. After laying the pieces of the flag out on the floor and photographing them, Litke said she was contacted by artist Daisy Graham, who offered to use a traditional technique to stitch it back together.
The flag had been so badly damaged, that it needed a new backing. Holding the flag up, Litke said, “The message here is really: you can rip us up, you can try and try harm us, you can try to tear us to bits. But we actually come back more glorious. We come back stronger. We we will rise above.”
But while Litke received what she called “an outpouring of care, concern, love and solidarity” over the attack at her home, social worker Vincent Mousseau warned about the limits of resilience.
A registered social worker and doctoral student in the Faculty of Health at Dalhousie University, Mousseau said resilience “is not enough. Our community should not have to develop resilience in the first place. The violence that forces resilience to be developed should not be happening. It is a collective failure on our part as a society that resilience needs to be developed for queer and trans people in the first place, and we must reckon with that.”
Opening the press conference, Lachance had said, “It’s not a small thing to raise the flag at Province House. When I’m upstairs in the chamber it’s not a small thing to hear folks refer to me with the gender-neutral honorific Mx, when I’m in the speaker’s chair. These are the kinds of things we need more of.”
Mousseau said they “hate to be the bearer of bad news,” but the kinds of incremental changes represented by raising the pride flag at Province House yesterday are “wholly inadequate, and I would argue detrimental, to the well-being of our communities.”
Mousseau said it’s easy for Nova Scotians to be complacent about increases in “anti 2-spririt and LGBTQ+ plus rhetoric in recent months,” but that complacency is misguided. They said:
I am thinking a lot about what’s going on in Tennessee with the banning of drag shows, and some people might say, oh, well, that’s happening in the United States. It’s not relevant to us here. Well, we’ve seen this creep up in our own region, haven’t we, with the Government of New Brunswick’s recent revisions to Policy 713 — revisions which communities say will negatively impact the protocols that are put in place to ensure safe, welcoming and inclusive school environments for 2-spirit and LGBTQ+ students and their families… But that’s New Brunswick. It’s fine, you know, it’s OK, it’s not happening here, at least… Right. On social media recently, some of you may have seen our fellow Nova Scotians treating an event called Drag Me to Family Dinner, a drag event in Kentville, as a “call to arms”… Now, in Nova Scotia, we have people talking about a call to action to stop family-friendly drag events happening. This is happening here. This is happening right now.
In an interview with the Examiner, Lachance said the current moment “for a lot of folks feels like a slide backwards in Canada in terms of how we have been able to live our lives… It is feeling like a bit of a dark period.” Lachance added, “I’m really actually getting concerned about the level of hatred about this issue.”
Rayne Frost, a student at Bay View High and co-lead of the school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) also spoke at the press conference, and connected the burning of the school’s pride flag with broader trends. Frost noted that incidents like the destruction of the Bay View pride flag “aren’t always fuelled by hatred, especially at a high school level. Sometimes they’re fuelled by ignorance or attention-seeking.” But, Frost added, “Whether or not this was an act of hatred, we see it inspire other acts of hatred outside of our high school.”
In response to the anti-drag protest outside the Kings Arms, pride groups across the province have been expressing solidarity and urging supporters to turn up and counter the protesters.
Niko Steenken, chair of Annapolis Royal Pride, said in an email exchange that “there are people coming from all over the province to show support for the performers [and] the venue and to support and protect the families attending the event, if need be.”
Steenken added, “What we at Annapolis Royal Pride have been asking is to have people come build a wall of love and acceptance to show these bigots there is no place for any kind of hate in this province.”
On Facebook, Kentville town Coun. Gillian Yorke wrote:
What I witnessed this weekend online (and what is most certainly taking place at dinner tables, coffee shops and on the street) has been nothing short of horrific. Threats and intimidation to discourage attendance at drag events with the ultimate goal of these events fizzling out and pushing drag into the closet will not work. In the strongest possible terms, I absolutely condemn the threats against the 2SLGBTQI+ community, particularly the reemergence of the homophobic “groomer” trope.
Meanwhile, another group, this one opposing “the UN and a globalist cabal” and their supposed actions in Canada, is planning a rally at the New Glasgow branch of the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library on May 19, as part of a series of events designed to “reclaim what the enemy has taken from us.” Among other things, the group calls education on gender and sexuality “sexual abuse.” Pictou County Pride has asked supporters to “come and stand in solidarity… Hate and division have no place in our home, town, and especially our library.”
With annual pride events drawing closer, Lachance told the Examiner they are worried about them becoming targets for hate: “We need government stepping up now, or we’re just going to see things get really tense in a lot of beautiful communities as everybody has their pride marches.”