“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” a passerby said as he walked his dog along the row of people holding multi-colored umbrellas and overwhelmed by sheer colorful numbers. “There’s going to be like four sad dudes that show up,” he predicted.
Hundreds of people lined the 700 block of Eighth Street SE amid reports that a contingent of anti-LGBT protesters planned to stage an anti-LGBTQ protest during Tara Hoot’s Drag Bruch Story Hour at Crazy Aunt Helen’s.
Many appeared as early as 8 a.m., holding a line of twirling rainbow umbrellas and backed up by a soundtrack of upbeat children’s hits. Even as temperatures dropped and snow fell, they remained in position for the next four hours.
The Hill is not having it. The umbrella brigade is out in full force, not just in front of @CrazyAuntHelens but on the whole 700 block of @BarracksRow Edmund reports the proud boys are coming to break up @TheRealTaraHoot Drag Story hour pic.twitter.com/QxaKqU8Uik
— HillRag DC (@HillRagDC) February 25, 2023
They were neighbors and residents of Capitol Hill, residents of Dupont Circle, friends from Montgomery County, MD. Many were volunteers with the Parasol Patrol DMV, an organization that works to shield children from the angry signs, statements and faces of people who come to protest at LGBTQ events.
In the end, no anti-LGBTQ protesters appeared on Barracks Row to face the rainbow line. But the community had concrete reason to be on alert.
Last week, the Parasol Patrol clashed with protesters, including members of right wing all-male organizaiton Proud Boys, as the patrol stood to protect families attending a Drag Queen Story hour at Loyalty Books in Silver Spring.
Many of those on Barracks Row said they suffered injuries last weekend but returned ready this Saturday to create a protective rainbow barrier on Barracks Row. “You want to see some bruising?” asked one person, dressed as a unicorn. “Last time they beat on me.”
Parasol Patrol volunteer John Zittrauer was bloodied at Loyalty Books as the patrol clashed with protesters; yellow bruising and healing cuts were visible on his face as he stood with the other volunteers outside Crazy Aunt Helen’s. “You dust yourself off, get ready for another day.”
Many were residents of the Hill who were angry that their neighborhood had been targeted for an act of hate.
The 700 block of Eighth Street SE was closed by 8 a.m., with Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) presence at the intersection with Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Near 11 a.m., rumors spread that the Proud Boys had been sighted a few blocks away, and members of the MPD mountain bike unit cycling in and taking position across the street.
Officers questioned several individuals and a few small groups, walking some individuals away from the block. But officers on site said they had no reports of the presence of Proud Boys or other anti-LGBTQ protesters on the Hill.
Ms. Tara Hoot appeared, resplendent in a rainbow feather boa and bolero over polka dot dress, finished with pearls and ruffled white gloves. As she prepared to begin story time, Hoot said the support on the Hill and throughout the District is overwhelming.
“I just wish LGBTQI people could feel the same level of support in areas of the country where they’re being attacked,” she said, “by bills, by state legislatures and by violence in places that should be safe where we can gather.”
“It makes me feel very lucky to live in DC, it makes me wish that everybody else out in the country … could feel that same support and love.”
Crazy Aunt Helen’s co-owner Shayne Mayson said he appreciated that the threat was taken so seriously, by MPD and by the community who came out and literally stood by them. “The entire block is filled with people,” he said, fighting emotion. “I mean, we’ve been here a year and a half. It’s just amazing to see that much support.”
He said he knew that the parasols were as much sheltering those inside as pushing against the hate that could come from outside, “but it makes me feel like I picked the right neighborhood.”
As snow began to fall, Ms. Tara Hoot came out to thank those who had stood outside. She read to the from “Be Brave, Little One,” changing the opening lines: “When I look at you, shining bright as the sun; I wish for you this: be brave, everyone.”
A great cheer went up as she read the lines, “Be brave to be quiet, be brave to be loud; be brave to achieve and be fully proud.”
After the story concluded, she thanked the assembled for being there and for putting themselves on the line, repeating her wish that every member of the LGBTQ community could feel so much love and support.
“You are all bright lights,” Hoot said in gratitude. “You are all making a real difference in this world.”
Learn more about Drag Queen Story Hour and other events by visiting Crazy Aunt Helen’s online. Follow Tara Hoot on Instagram and Twitter. Learn more about the Parasol Patrol and their work by visiting their website.