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Drag defenders organize to outnumber the right in Royal Oak

Report from the front

In this report back Hank Kennedy discusses the successful defense of Drag Story Time in Royal Oak, MI.

On Saturday March 11th, Sidetrack Bookshop in Royal Oak, Michigan held a Drag Story Time event hosted by drag artists Rose Ritz and Sirinity Sapphire. Shortly after the announcement of the event, various far-right activists announced their plans to protest the event, beginning with the 11th District Republican Commitee headquartered in rural Commerce Township.

The chair of the committee, Shane Trejo, has had a history of far right activities. Trejo hosted a podcast entitled Blood, Soil, and Liberty with white supremacist Alex Witoslawski in 2017. For those unfamiliar, “Blood and soil” was a slogan used by Nazis in Germany, and the purpose of Trejo’s podcast was instructing white supremacists and Neo-Nazis on how to make their politics more appealing to the “mainstream” conservatives. Trejo’s leadership reflects a growing confluence between the GOP and far right movements.

Also in attendance were members of Ferndale based Church Militant. Church Militant, located somewhat incongruously in Metro Detroit’s premiere “Gayborhood” is a right-wing Catholic group classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. Church Militant gained infamy in 2020 when they accused the Archbishop of Washington D.C., who is Black, of being an “accused homosexual,” a “Marxist,” and an “African Queen.” This led to an official rebuke from the archdiocese of Detroit. More recently, Church Militant has promoted white nationalist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.

A poster with the headline Drag Queen Storytime and the inages of two drag queens, one with dark hair and one with blond hair, against a purple background and the text Sidetrack Bookshop March 11 2 p.m. Join us to hear artists Sirinity Sapphire and Rose Ritz read books highlighting inclusion and acceptance.
Image courtesy of Hank Kennedy.

Fortunately, on the day of the story hour, these bigots were vastly outnumbered by counter protesters. While an estimated two dozen anti-LGBTQ protestors showed up, one thousand counter protesters were on hand. The protesters’ signs contained the usual right-wing smears about the alleged danger to children posed by LGBTQ people, but there was also a sign held by what appeared to be a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) complaining that drag “demeans” women. Unfortunately, despite the presence of a few visible IWW members, there was not a strong socialist presence at the counterprotest, which was called by the Royal Oak Democratic Club.

Although the outpouring of community support was heartening, events in other cities in the Metro Detroit area have been more frustrating. Recently, the city council of Hamtramck voted to ban the flying of the Pride flag on city property. The current mayor of the city, Amer Ghalib, campaigned explicitly against flying the flag in the 2021 election. Similarly, a resolution to recognize Pride month in Eastpointe failed in a 2-2 vote. Over in Warren, the third largest city in the state and Detroit’s largest suburb, Trump loving city councilman Eddie Kabacinski launched into a homophobic and transphobic rant before voting against an anti-discrimination ordinance. In Livingston County, long a home of extreme right activity, the county commissioners banned the promotion of Pride events by county entities, comparing Pride to the hate group the Proud Boys.

Even Detroit’s own “Gayborhood” of Ferndale has not been immune to these sorts of activities. In April, the aforementioned Church Militant attempted to get Ferndale City Council to agree to fly their flag, while complaining, without apparent irony, of discrimination against them for their religious beliefs. More recently, aspiring theocrats CatholicVote, brought their “Hide the Pride” campaign to the Ferndale Area District Library, by checking out all the books from the library’s Pride displays and replacing them with religious books.

Despite these reactionary attacks, LGBTQ people and the left continue to fight back. The banning of the Pride flag in Hamtramck was met with a 200 strong protest at city hall on Saturday, June 24th. Despite the mayor’s baseless and conspiratorial charge that protestors were “outside agitators” many of the speakers and attendees live or work in Hamtramck. Groups present included the Hamtramck Queer Alliance, Tempest, the IWW, the Michigan Coalition for Reproductive Liberation, CPUSA, DSA, Anti-Transphobia Action and others. Unfortunately, also present were the Revolutionary Communist Party, who have a long history of anti-gay sentiment and who currently engage in ugly transphobia in their current campaign against “woke” ideas. The RCP is attempting to bury this shameful history and recruit from people who are concerned about attacks on LGBTQ rights despite downplaying those concerns themselves. While Michigan’s Attorney General, Dana Nessel, an open lesbian, was present and gave a speech, the absence of State Representative Abraham Aiyash, who represents Hamtramck, is notable. In fact, Aiyash has not, as of this writing, made a statement about the growing anti-LGBTQ sentiment in Hamtramck. Given that Aiyash is, at least nominally, a member of DSA and was first elected with the support of that organization, it is odd that he would not speak out against these attacks on an oppressed group. As it stands, his silence speaks volumes.

These instances reflect some troubling trends in 2023. First, these events have occurred in the Detroit Metro Area, not in rural Michigan or the more conservative west side of the state. This shows that, contrary to stereotypes about these hateful attitudes being a small town or rural phenomenon, there is an audience for anti-LGBTQ bigotry within cities. Second, there is a growing alliance between the Christian Right and conservative Muslims. While this would have been unthinkable in the Islamaphobic atmosphere post-9/11, these groups have decided to let bygones be bygones in order to beat up on queer people. The good news is that when the community rallies, as was in the case of defending Drag Story Time in Royal Oak, they outnumber and can shut down the bigots.

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.

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Hank Kennedy View All

Hank Kennedy is a Detroit area socialist, educator, and longtime comic book fan.