Fringe groups continue to target Drag Queen Story Hour events across Australia

25 March 2024

By: Elise Thomas

Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) events across Australia continue to face targeted harassment and intimidation by fringe groups, partially driven by transphobic and homophobic conspiracy theories imported from overseas. Councils, performers, venues and organisers need more support to respond. 

On 10 February, a group of men reportedly linked to the Christian Lives Matter movement attempted to enter Marrickville Library in Western Sydney to disrupt an ongoing Drag Storytime event. Library staff turned the men away and called police, who arrived as the men continued to bang on the windows outside the library. Police told the men to move on, but no arrests were made and the event continued undisturbed. The council has committed to holding more such events in the future. 

This recent incident in Marrickville highlights the disquieting undertones facing LGBTQ+ people in Australia. As ISD’s latest report examining anti-drag mobilisation targeting LGBTQ+ people in Australia illustrates, this is only the latest in a disturbing pattern of targeted intimidation, opposition and harassment aimed at all-ages drag performances. This is a transnational phenomenon; previous reports in our series ‘A Year of Hate: Understanding Threats and Harassment Targeting Drag Shows and the LGBTQ+ Community‘ have documented similar behaviour in the US and the UK linked to conspiracy theory communities and far-right groups. 

Last year’s WorldPride celebrations in Sydney, which coincided with Mardi Gras, were overall a glittering success. However, they were marred by a handful of concerning incidents of conspiracy theories, disinformation, intimidation and violence driven by a combination of US-inspired homophobic and transphobic conspiracy theories and by local fringe religious groups.  

A year later, Australia is continuing to find itself faced with the consequences of anti-LGBTQ+ conspiracy theories, hate and mobilisation flowing predominantly from the US. ISD has collated reports of at least 18 events involving protests, harassment or intimidation targeting DQSH events. This may not be the full picture, as it is likely not all incidents have been publicly reported.  

The antagonism targeting DQSH events is being stoked by loosely coordinated networks on Facebook, Instagram and Telegram, as well as a small number of groups like Christian Lives Matter and the neo-Nazi National Socialist Network which are mobilising both online and offline.  

Many of these online networks are the remnants of Australia’s anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown movement. As their followers steadily lose interest in those issues, key influencers who have built their audiences and their businesses around stoking confected outrage have moved on to a range of other imagined enemies, taking their lead from similar outrage merchants based primarily in the US and the UK.  

Unfortunately, drag performers and the LGBTQ+ community more widely have emerged as one of their main targets. Some conspiracy theorists have falsely sought to conflate all-ages drag performances and LGBTQ+ communities with paedophilia and Satanism, blending elements of QAnon lore with heavy religious overtones and overt, unalloyed homophobia and bigotry.  

This pivot from anti-vaccine to anti-drag proselytising is visible across the spectrum, from extremely niche and fringe micro-influencers lost in a conspiratorial haze to sitting federal politicians who were elected at least partially on a platform of opposition to mandatory vaccines and lockdowns, such as Senator Ralph Babet and Senator Malcolm Roberts, who have now begun using their political platforms to oppose DQSH events. 

Some influencers with large followings have been using their platforms to coordinate and encourage targeted harassment and intimidation against DQSH events, performers, organisers and venues, as well as local councils. The event targeted by Christian Lives Matter protesters in Marrickville, for example, was repeatedly shared on social media by a Sydney influencer who has been publicly campaigning against LGBTQ+ content in Catholic schools as well as against DQSH events. 

This influencer, who uses the handle @mummasroar_, took credit for the cancellation of the ABC’s proposed Rockdale event which, as outlined below, occurred after a wave of violent threats and intimidation were made against ABC staff. She then called on her followers to do the same to Marrickville, providing contact details for both the library and the council.  


Figure 1: Screenshot of Instagram post by @mummasroar_ published on 7 February 2024.

Figure 1: Screenshot of Instagram post by @mummasroar_ published on 7 February 2024.

It is important to place these networks in the broader context. This galvanised opposition to DQSH is extremely fringe in the Australian community. Protesters against DQSH events have repeatedly been met and greatly outnumbered by counter-protesters like the Rainbow Community Angels who have organised in support of DQSH events and the LGBTQ+ community. Many organisers and venues have demonstrated a commitment to supporting DQSH events in spite of the harassment and pushback they have faced.  

For example, the Hill Shire Council in Sydney recently made headlines when it voted not to pay for DQSH events in their libraries (although they noted that DQSH events which were privately paid for could still be held). While this decision by the Hill Shire Council is notable, the broader context is still a positive one. The Hill Shire Council motion was a reaction to a motion successfully passed by the 2023 Local Government New South Wales (LGNSW) Annual Conference supporting and encouraging DQSH and other LGBTIQA+ inclusive events in Council facilities around the state. Support for DQSH events is the majority position amongst councils, at least in New South Wales. 

Despite this in-principle support from the majority of councils, it is clear that many have struggled to handle the targeted intimidation against DQSH events. As the LGNSW observed “some Councils and communities lack the resources, expertise and networks to undertake community-driven safety solutions to ensure LGBTQIA+ events and activities, including Drag Story Time, are safe for performers and attendees,” leading to some events being cancelled. 

The effects of this intimidation are difficult to measure. Some councils and venues have announced the cancellation of events in the face of intimidation and protests. On 6 February 2024, the ABC also announced it was cancelling plans to hold a DQSH event at the Rockdale Library as part of its coverage of Sydney’s Mardi Gras. The ABC’s Managing Director David Anderson told Senate Estimates that the cancellation was due to a torrent of abuse and even death threats aimed at an ABC staff member whose details were included in a public call-out for the event. 

In many cases, however, cancellations may not be publicly announced. In particular, it is difficult to publicly monitor the extent of self-censorship, for example when councils and venues cancel planned events before they have been made public, or where they simply opt not to plan DQSH events out of concern over the potential backlash.  

As noted in ISD’s new report, Australia is not in the same position as the US, where lawmakers are poised to ban DQSH events in multiple states as part of a wider legislative assault on drag and LGBQT+ visibility and freedom of speech. In Australia the obstacle is not so much powerful enemies as it is unprepared or insufficiently committed allies. 

Councils need help. The experiences of the past year have clearly demonstrated that even when the will is there and the intentions are good, councils and libraries struggle to deal with the impact of coordinated intimidation and harassment and with the additional financial costs (for example hiring security guards or paying for police presence) which can be very significant.  

This is not the first issue over which councils are finding themselves staring down networks of organised conspiracy theorists, and it will not be the last. Training and support is needed for councillors and council staff in how to deal with these emerging challenges. Lessons could be learned and shared from best practices around the country and overseas, as local authorities around the world confront similar challenges.  

While better training and support will help, it also comes down to commitment. Homophobia is not dead in Australia. Transphobia is alive and kicking. Despite decades of Dame Edna on Australian television screens, some people are still fixated on the idea of drag as pernicious and harmful and this is only exacerbated by the steady stream of bigoted disinformation scrolling across their social media feeds.