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Halloween Drag Story Hour Canceled in Florida Over Neo-Nazi Threats

Carlos Guillermo Smith, Ron DeSantis, Shevrin Jones
Carlos Guillermo Smith (L); Ron DeSantis; Shevrin Jones

State lawmakers have blamed Gov. Ron DeSantis for the current anti-LGBTQ+ climate. 

Organizers for a drag queen story hour in Orlando canceled the event following a string of threats from neo-Nazi groups.

The LGBT+ Center Orlando announced the sold-out event, scheduled for October 29, will not proceed.

George Wallace, executive director of the Center, said most threats were not explicitly violent but suggested the event would have turned into a platform for hate. Concerned such an event could quickly turn violent, he said it was canceled for safety purposes.

"Especially with an event that was going to have children, this was not something that A, I wanted them to see, or B, would put anyone in harm's way," he tells The Advocate.

Drag queen Bridgette Galore was expected to read books at the event for 75 children and their families.

Wallace suggested the current political environment contributed to the escalation in the language used, though he declined to name any politicians in particular.

But other leaders in the area were less reluctant. Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a gay state lawmaker, said it was important to speak out against intolerance. He said GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis's inability to condemn racist extremists in the state fed the problem.

"That's why we have always spoken out against homophobia and transphobia, and it is continuing to be promoted by right-wing politicians," Smith says. "The governor has yet to condemn Nazis organizing and protesting in the state of Florida."

Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones, another out lawmaker, also pinned the hate on DeSantis' shoulders.

"This is the FL that Gov. Ron DeSantis has created, one where people are afraid to FREELY be themselves, and one where condemning racism, antisemitism, LGBTQ violence is encouraged by his [Ron DeSantis'] silence," Jones tweeted. "This type of violence will only get worse."

Wallace shared a string of social media posts from extremist groups promising 40-50 people would attend who were affiliated with the National Socialist Movement, White Lives Matter, Patriot Front, the Proud Boys, Goyim Defense League and the National Socialist Front.

DeSantis' campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Florida signed the state's "don't say gay" law in the spring.

Wallace suggested the increasing anti-LGBTQ sentiment, though, may stretch farther back than the current governor's time in office, and said it could be documented going back six years.

"You have politicians that are running for office and are demonizing the LGBTQ+ community specifically, " he said, "and they are suing drag queen story hour as a talking point."

The Center has held drag queen story hour events since 2019, though the pandemic forced many online. The event this month, themed for Halloween, was the first in-person event of its kind planned by the organization since the pandemic.

At this event, The Center planned to give copies of every book read to the children in attendance. With that inventory in stock, Wallace promised further story hour events will take place.

"I don't want to let think we are letting hate win," he says. "But really, having 40 or 50 protesters, and a feud in between the Proud Boys and the Nazis, and then them using this platform or our location, it didn't bode well with me."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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