Drag queen storytime in England promotes compassion and inclusion. British far-right extremists are importing US hate against them

Drag Queen Story Hour, a UK event where children are read books that advocate empathy and inclusion, has been faced with disruptive protests as the show tours libraries around England.

London (CNN)An ordinary red-brick library in the southern English town of Reading is an unlikely backdrop for the latest front in the battle for equality for the LGBTQ+ community. But last week -- in scenes later repeated across the country-- Covid-19 conspiracists and far-right supporters lobbed homophobic and transphobic slurs at parents and children to try to stop the kids from meeting drag queens.

In footage shared online, anti-vaxxer Michael Chaves ​is seen berating parents -- some of whom are carrying infants -- arriving for Drag Queen Story Hour UK, an event at which books promoting compassion and inclusion are read to children. Chaves goes on to falsely accuse Sab Samuel, who was performing that day as drag queen Aida H Dee, of being a pedophile. CNN has reached out to Chaves for comment; he has not responded. ​
He told local newspaper The Reading Chronicle, that he was protesting the tour as it was "sexualising children."
    As protesters unfurled a banner reading: "Welcome groomers" outside the library, two women who had pretended to be attendees disrupted the reading inside the building, calling Samuel an "adult entertainer" as they terrified parents and children in the process, according to Samuel. At least one mother was seen crying after the incident, Samuel said.
      The term "groomer" is a homophobic stereotype used to falsely smear queer people and their supporters as child sex abusers.
      At the end of the session, Samuel left the library with police protection as demonstrators hurled abuse.
      ​Recent angry confrontations around events involving drag queens in the United Kingdom follow a disturbing precedent from the United States, where right-wing extremist groups ambush similar events and conservative politicians have pledged to criminalize adults taking children to drag shows.
        It has coincided with a wider movement to curtail rights ​related to bodily autonomy, ranging from abortion access to gender affirming care​, punctuated by a wave of anti-LGBTQ bills and Justice Clarence Thomas questioning marriage equality as the US Supreme Court overturned the ​federal right to abortion ​in the United States.
        "This is the same hate (as seen in the US) but just in a different context ... the same disgust, the same homophobia and transphobia," Samuel, who founded Drag Queen Story Hour UK, told CNN.
        Extremist groups in Britain are now feeling emboldened amid "a broader pushback against (queer) identities existing in public," according to Tim Squirrell, an online extremism expert and communications director at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) think tank.
        "Even people who are reasonably progressive in their beliefs and politics have become quite radical ​[in their opposition to] this thing, which really, really worries me, not least to the actual risk of queer people existing in public, but in the US, we've seen it tied into a much broader attempt to rollback LGBT rights," he told CNN.
        The pushback against LGBTQ rights in the UK has largely affected trans people, say campaigners, where ​so-called gender critical activists and ​sympathetic British press have succeeded in curtailing efforts to make it easier for trans people to change their gender marker.
        Britain's Conservative leadership contest has seen hopefuls ​espousing anti-trans rhetoric, and promising policies that would impede on the rights of trans people.​
        Trans people may potentially be left out of plans for a ban on conversion therapy ​in the UK, while some religious and ​other anti-trans groups campaign against the teaching of ​what they call "gender ​ideology," or information about the existence of transgender and nonbinary identities, in school.
        Drag queens have also been ​a target of some feminists, who criticize them for what they perceive as a mocking portrayal of women and for being over-sexualized.

        Challenging expectations

        Samuels, who performs as Aida H Dee at Drag Queen Story Hour, told CNN some of the young attendees of his event find "joy" when they see themselves reflected in his persona.