LGBTQ activists line the sidewalk near the Drag Queen Story Hour at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton on Saturday. Credit: Dan Schere

Families entering Wheaton’s Brookside Gardens for Saturday’s outdoor session of Drag Queen Story Hour were greeted by LGBTQ activists who held up rainbow flags and colorful sheets as they lined a sidewalk.

Drag Queen Story Hour is part of an international program in which performers read stories to children in libraries, schools and bookstores. The event had been a regular occurrence at Brookside Gardens, but the last scheduled session, in June, was cancelled when a performer backed out at the last minute.

In recent months, anti-LGBTQ protesters have disrupted a number of the story hours across the country. In Montgomery County, protesters have shown up at local story hours, including a session earlier this summer at Loyalty Bookstore in downtown Silver Spring.

Kristin Mink, a community organizer and the Democratic candidate for County Council District 5, said at the event on Saturday she has been helping to organize activists to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community at story hours since the Silver Spring event was disrupted.

Maryland-National Capital Park Police were present on Saturday.

Mink said Drag Queen Story Hours are important when it comes to affirming a message of diversity.

“I do think that a number of those [protesters] are coming in from outside Montgomery County, but regardless, that anti-LGBTQ hatred is not something that we welcome in Montgomery County, and we want to make sure it doesn’t get a foothold,” she said.

Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart, the Democratic candidate for the District 4 council seat, also attended Saturday’s story hour and said protesters had been present at a Drag Queen Story Hour at a library in Kensington last month.

“We have to stay vigilant on these issues and make sure we are creating spaces where people can come together and feel safe,” she said.

D’manda Martini, a drag queen who performs throughout the greater Washington, D.C., region, read three stories to children and their families at Brookside Gardens: It’s Okay To Be Different, by Todd Parr, Peanut Goes for the Gold, by Jonathan Van Ness and What Riley Wore by Elana K. Arnold. The children and their parents clapped after she finished reading each book.

Martini said after the event that she was leading the story hour at Loyalty Bookstore when it was disrupted earlier this summer.

“It was disheartening and a little scary,” she said.

Martini said she worries about anti-LGBTQ bigotry, but appreciated the showing of solidarity on Saturday.

“I have to say that I appreciate everyone at Brookside Gardens for providing a safe space, making sure everybody was here for the right reasons and having a good day today,” she said. “For a lot of kids, drag is just someone dressing up. It’s bright colors, a lot of makeup, fun costuming. So for them, it’s just someone reading you a story.”

Allison Socol brought her children, ages 2 and 6. She said she was glad they were able to hear affirming messages.

“This [is] especially fun because it’s such a positive role model for kids,” she said.

Erin Hurst, a nonbinary Garrett Park resident, was among the group that gathered by the sidewalk to show solidarity. Hurst said it’s important for young children to hear messages of acceptance.

“It’s important to tell these kids about it because I can tell you that at least one of these kids in the crowd is gonna grow up to be queer,” they said. “And [with] the rise of hate [toward] trans and queer people in this country, we really need to step up and defend the community — because we’ve made great progress, but that could all fall away.”

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com