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  • Writer's pictureJessica Jaymes Purdy

The Cynical Strategy Behind Public Attack on the Lancaster Drag Queen Story Hour

Text overlaying an image of the Lancaster Public Library.  The text reads, "The Cynical Strategy Behind Public Attack on the Lancaster Drag Queen Story Hour" Jessica Jaymes Purdy. A butterfly logo sits in the lower right corner.

Some of you may think my recent articles and posts about the danger of hate speech are over the top, unfair, or simply an overreaction. But the events surrounding the cancelled drag queen story hour in Lancaster show exactly how irresponsible rhetoric from politicians can lead to real-world threats and harm.


As I've been writing about in my series "How Words Can Conceal and Enable Harm," language that dehumanizes marginalized groups or frames them as threats is never harmless. It creates a permissive culture for discrimination, exclusion, and even violence. Appeals to "protect children" are a common tactic for cloaking blatant bigotry.


That's precisely the playbook that Lancaster County Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D'Agostino followed in their public statements opposing the drag queen story hour. Rather than express any concerns directly to library staff or event organizers, they took to social media to paint the event as a danger to children, making false equivalencies between family-friendly drag performances and explicit adult entertainment.


I am not alone in recognizing this pattern for what it is. Extremism experts quoted in LNP | LancasterOnline's article "After last Saturday’s bomb threats in Lancaster, extremism experts see a familiar pattern," also recognized this as a familiar pattern. Parsons and D'Agostino's posts, amplified by activist groups like Gays Against Groomers and Libs of TikTok, deliberately twisted the story hour into a nefarious plot to "sexualize children" and "promote deviance." Their goal was to manufacture outrage by connecting the local event to broader right-wing conspiracies.


As Jared Holt of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue explained, simply opposing a drag queen reading to kids with parental supervision isn't inflammatory enough on its own. So instead, "They have constructed these stories that events like these...are part of this sinister agenda, this trajectory that the U.S. is on, to sexualize children, and to promote deviance in society, and corrupt the youth and convince them that conservatives are evil, terrible people. That kind of narrative sells well."


This was a calculated strategy. The commissioners had to know that by posting these wild allegations online rather than communicating with organizers, they were inviting a flood of hate from all corners of the internet, including potentially violent extremists. Ari Drennen of Media Matters pointed out that Libs of TikTok alone has been linked to threats against 42 previous LGBTQ+ events it targeted.


The bomb threats that led to evacuations in Lancaster were the totally predictable result of the commissioners' dangerous and hateful rhetoric. As former FBI agent Thomas O'Connor noted, "The more people you get enraged over a topic, the more chances there are for someone to do something extreme." Public officials have a responsibility to make sure their claims are factual and not pour gasoline on the fire.


But to Parsons, D'Agostino, and their national allies, the threats were likely a feature, not a bug. Their goal was never a good-faith discussion about the event - it was to shut it down and smear LGBTQ+ visibility as a danger to children, facts be damned. Now they'll reap political benefits among far-right conservatives and republicans by boasting about how they stood against the "harmful-presence" of drag queens, while the library, LGBTQ+ community, and the city are left to deal with the fallout.


I'm beyond appalled but sadly not surprised. This is the same "groomer" panic and dehumanization of LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender folks, that's fueling hundreds of discriminatory bills nationwide. It relies on the demonization I discussed in "Protecting the Vulnerable vs. Prejudice." The supposed need to "protect" kids is used to mask a blatant agenda to legislate LGBTQ+ people like me out of public life.


We can't keep letting politically motivated bigotry lead to real-world harms. I implore you to stand with the LGBTQ+ community in Lancaster in unequivocally condemning the officials and activists who created this dangerous firestorm through their irresponsible words and actions. Drag queen story hours are joyful, age-appropriate celebrations of diversity, creativity and acceptance. Our kids are not threatened by them - but they are absolutely threatened by the hatred and intolerance incited by adults who should know better.

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