(NEW YORK)– PEN America today condemned the alarming spread of intimidation, harassment, and violence at protests organized by far-right and extremist groups against drag story hours and other drag shows across the country. The latest confrontation, in New York City earlier this week, saw rioters vandalize the home and office of a gay New York City Councilmember, Erik Bottcher, who has voiced support for Drag Story Hour events at public libraries. The protesters graffitied the slur “groomer” on Bottcher’s property and physically assaulted one of his neighbors. They also chased a drag artist to their car and surrounded it, preventing the performer from leaving until protesters were dispersed by police.

“These violent responses to drag performers and members of the LGBTQ+ community strike at the heart of the freedom to gather, read, perform, and share community safely, all bedrocks of a free society,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America. ” “People have a right to protest, to criticize, and to debate. The First Amendment protects even hateful speech. But it does not protect vandalism or physical violence against others. These acts are designed to intimidate librarians, library patrons, event organizers, venue operators, and LGBTQ+ people and their allies into self-censorship, which runs counter to the free speech rights we all enjoy.”

“Drag events are expressions of identities and ideas,” Friedman continued. “Where drag performers are invited to appear in public institutions, they enjoy the same protections afforded to any other individual, group, or event, regardless of identity, content, or viewpoint. These escalating confrontations come amidst other efforts to suppress LGBTQ+ books, narratives, and events in public libraries, schools, and even universities. The resort to violence in response to these forms of peaceful expression should affront all who believe in free expression and equality as democratic ideals.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057