April 2, 2020

Drag queens protest in state capitol

Drag queens protesting in the state capitol caused the Westboro Baptist Church to make an appearance in Jefferson City. The queens remained focused on their protest and even stopped to read a story to the children attending.

By: Charlotte Renner

A surprising explosion of color met the eye as the normally grey Capitol grounds came into view at noon on March 7. Rainbow umbrellas were everywhere, signs filled the air, and hundreds of people packed the normally uncrowded grounds in front of the Missouri state capitol building in Jefferson City.

They came to show their support for drag queen story hour at Missouri public libraries and their protest of House Bill 2044, which could potentially ban it. 

Drag queens, parents, children, the LGBTQ community and their allies made up the crowd at the protest. Jefferson City residents were abundant, but people came from all across Missouri and even out of state. 

Drag queen Autumn Equinox organizes the drag queen storytime program in Columbia. Equinox is passionate about keeping drag queen storytime a part of her community to educate about what drag is and inspire kids to be themselves. 

“Drag queen story hour is basically saying that it’s okay to express yourself,” Equinox said.

“You don’t have to be a drag queen, but you also don’t have to look like everyone else. Drag queen storytimes — they are important and they are powerful.” 

Later in the protest, all the kids sat around Equinox as she read ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ to them from a PDF on her phone. 

After the story was finished, Equinox instructed the kids, “Make sure you treat every one of your friends with respect and love, because that’s what we’re all about here today, right?” 

The protest brought many organizations that support LGBTQ rights to Jefferson City, including Parasol Patrol from Denver, Colorado. Parasol Patrol formed a sort of defense line of brightly colored umbrellas at the crowd’s edge, serving as a barrier against anti-protestors or hate groups.

Parasol Patrol co-founder Eli Bazan discusses noise levels with the police at the protest. Photo by Charlotte Renner.

Volunteers held umbrellas and signs to form the line, escorted protestors into the protest or back to their cars, and helped keep the protest safe in general. Rick and Judy Underwood held the organization’s sign in the line. 

“The purpose of Parasol Patrol is shielding kids from hate. They asked us to hold the sign and we’re happy to do it because we’re here to support,” Rick Underwood said. “Really, libraries are for anyone. Anybody should be able to walk into a library, pick up a book, and learn without being encumbered in any capacity.” 

An important aspect of the protest is keeping the peace with the police. Eli Bazan, a co-founder of Parasol Patrol, was in charge of this effort. According to Bazan, noise ordinance is a touchy subject at protests and can vary from event to event.

As one of the American Guard protestors got a microphone to start reading from the Bible, Bazan conferred with a police officer to make sure that the speakers on the protest side weren’t too loud. 

“We let [the counter-protestors] elevate, then we try to raise our level to theirs. If it becomes an issue, then we both get shut down,” Bazan said. “We try to play it as passive as we can until we can’t.” 

Counterprotest groups at the event also included the Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas. 

“Somebody needs to get the Bible side out. That’s why we’re here,” Westboro Baptist Church member Fred Phelps Jr. said. “The fact that anyone would ask why we’re here shows how depraved and degraded this society has become.” 

The counterprotest groups filtered out about an hour into the protest, and protest members stayed from noon until around 2 p.m. One of the event organizers, drag queen Venus Victrola got up to thank everyone for coming at the end of the protest.

A drag entertainer from Springfield, Missouri, Victrola has taken part in many protests having to do with LGBTQ and feminist issues. This time, they took it upon themself to organize the protest. With the help from organizations like Parasol Patrol and Missouri residents, Victrola felt that the protest was a success. 

“It looks like it really worked out, and the weather’s perfect,” Victrola said. “I love my community, love wins every time, and we are stronger together.”

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