A North Carolina congressional candidate said he plans to attend the Charlotte International Arts Festival Drag Queen Story Hour in a Charlotte park to “ensure the safety of any children” after referring to drag queens as pedophiles and predators.
Tyler Lee, the Republican nominee for the 12th Congressional District, called for the event this weekend in Romare Bearden Park to be canceled. He also encouraged people to protest the story hour and email council members to call for its cancellation. A Charlotte City Council member and former Republican council candidate have since called out Lee’s claims as misinformation and bigotry. “This is your CALL TO ACTION! I need your help this weekend in our very own backyard,” Lee wrote in a tweet.
The story hour on Saturday and Sunday is part of the Charlotte International Arts Festival that kicks off this weekend and will involve drag queens reading books and doing crafts with children to “show them there is always a way to love who they are,” according to the event’s website.
Lee said in a statement provided to The Charlotte Observer he’s particularly upset the event is taking place in a public park. “Men are called to be watchmen over our children,” Lee said. “It is disgusting for a man to dress as a woman and use that as a disguise to prey on innocent children by having ‘story time’ in a public park of all places!”
Lee emailed Charlotte City Council members and tweeted a screenshot from a response he received from at-large representative LaWana Mayfield. Mayfield, the first openly gay citywide council representative, who said in her response “pedophiles are statistically white, heterosexual men over 30” and she included a link to the Mental Health Center of America’s website with more information. Lee told the Observer he took that as Mayfield calling him a pedophile because he does “not share her radical ideology.”
Mayfield said she felt the need to call out Lee’s “blatant misinformation” and that his call to action is a classic example of bigotry. “Love thy neighbor and support the (drag queen story) event. If the event offends, do not attend,” Mayfield told the Observer.
The president of Charlotte Pride’s board of directors, Clark Simon, said Lee’s call to action is nothing new and reactions have grown more hostile over the past several years.
“It’s been happening all over the country and all over the state,” Simon said. “It’s concerning that people are so bigoted and homophobic.” Simon feels the events can be beneficial for LGBTQ youth, who are more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.
“Children are very open and having a parent take them teaches them acceptance and that it’s okay to be different,” Simon explained. “These events are affirming and calling it out further stigmatizes an entire subset of the population.”
A report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found 90 percent of child molesters target children in their network of family and friends, and the majority are men married to women. “Most child molesters, therefore, are not gay people lingering outside schools wanting to snatch children from the playground, as much religious-right rhetoric suggests,” the report reads.
But this isn’t the first time a drag queen story hour has drawn hostility. In June, a drag queen story hour in Apex, North Carolina, received violent threats. The town’s mayor called for the event’s cancellation, but the show went on when Equality NC, the state’s oldest LGBTQ rights organization, stepped in to sponsor it. Police officers were posted nearby to ensure the event took place peacefully — and it did.
In 2019 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a similar event drew protesters from as far as Tennessee. More than 60 protesters chanted “you’re sick” and “shame on you” while a drag queen read children the anti-bullying book “Rainbow Fish,” according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
Kyle Luebke, an openly gay Republican who ran for City Council this year and lost in the general election on July 26, said he thinks the conversation surrounding the event has gotten out of hand. “For me as a conservative and a person who thinks that parental rights are extremely important, if parents want to take their children to a drag queen story hour, they should be able to,” Luebke said. “People can disagree on whether that’s a good thing or not.”
The Charlotte International Arts Festival is presented by the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, which did not provide comment by Friday morning. The festival runs through Oct. 2 and includes more than 200 arts events. The full schedule can be found at charlotteartsfest.com.