Queens and princesses young and old came to the Midland Public Library on Friday afternoon for a drag queen storytime session, sharing in laughter, song and a bit of magic.
Drag queens from Haus of Devereaux read aloud and entertained many families who sat in a quiet pocket of the library. But outside, another group held signs to protest the event that sparked the honking of horns and a few shouting matches.
Midland Mayor Bill Gordon was in attendance for the event, wearing a Read Proud button and sporting a green St. Patrick’s Day top hat gifted to him by a library patron. Deputy Mayor Jack Contin and Coun. Jamie-Lee Ball also attended the event.
“This is people exercising their constitutional rights to gather and to have fun,” said Gordon. “And as we see outside, people are also exercising their constitutional right to object to other people gathering and having fun.”
About 10 protesters were stationed outside on King Street between Neezhoday Park and Elizabeth Street. Some drivers honked in support as they passed while other passersby engaged in shouting matches with the demonstrators, who brought handmade and printed signs to protest the event.
Repeated attempts by a reporter to have someone speak on the record to what was being protested were rebuked. It is uncertain if the protesters were local residents or from elsewhere.
Inside, Jemm Doshay and Queenie ZaDahl, of Haus of Devereaux, shared in the delight of children as the first story, Capybara is Friends with Everyone, by Maddie Frost, was read aloud with the pages shown and Doshay in full entertainment mode.
“Being a great friend means going above and beyond. Take it from me; I have 4,382 friends,” read Doshay, who quickly quipped, “That’s a lot. I only have 200 on Instagram.”
Parents laughed, and the children quickly followed. Minutes later, Doshay sang, “Hello, my name is Capybara,” to the welcome applause of those in attendance.
Trish Hayes, the library’s chief librarian and CEO, said the event is an important one.
“It’s to show inclusivity. It’s to show that we accept everyone in our community, and it’s also about the love of reading and stories for children,” she said.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, and at the library we promote freedom of speech and literacy — non-banned books. However, we expect everyone not to impede with anyone else’s wishes, desires, or how they want to live their life.”
Hayes added, “I’d like to thank the community for all the support we’ve received. While there’s a lot of press about the negativity, I think what has to be brought to light is how many people were positive about this, how many people supported it, and that force was so much stronger than the negative.”
In the municipal parking lot behind the library, personal vehicles advertising affiliation with the Freedom Convoy protests and a disdain for the prime minister were noticed by several passersby who had stated a connection to the freedom protests.
The library was prepared for the protest. In addition to the registered list for those to attend, plainclothes and uniformed members of the OPP were located throughout the premises, inside and out, to keep the peace.
One child dressed up as a princess with a pink tutu showed visible excitement for the show as her guardian held her hand tightly, passing a smiling security guard through the building.
The event continued for three hours, and counter-protesters arrived within an hour carrying their own message of support. A 15-foot banner stating “We (heart) Drag Queens” was held behind the entire group of protesters from end to end.