Monash council cancels drag queen story time event

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Monash City Council has cancelled a drag queen story time event after threats of violence against families, the performer, councillors and staff escalated following a tense protest at its offices.

The south-eastern council’s meeting was derailed last week when almost 200 people attended its centre in Glen Waverley, many to protest against its sold-out drag queen event planned for children and parents at Oakleigh Library.

People in the public gallery in the Monash Council meeting on April 26.Credit: Facebook/Real Rukshan

Extra security staff and police officers were organised after fringe groups including My Place and Reignite Democracy Australia rallied supporters to attend. The groups espouse views often associated with alt-right or conspiracy-theory thinking and can be hostile to the LGBTQ community.

Protesters verbally abused attending residents and repeatedly labelled councillors “paedophiles”, forcing the council to temporarily adjourn proceedings.

Unlike other councils, including Casey and Boroondara, Monash had until now been refusing to give into weeks of abuse and threats to pressure the council to scrap its drag event.

Screenshots from social media app Telegram show that Thomas Sewell, who leads Australia’s largest neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Network, wrote in a since-deleted post on Tuesday that he would “bring as many Nazis as possible” to the drag event.

Monash chief executive Dr Andi Diamond said the decision to cancel the event was made in consultation with Victoria Police.

“Councillors and staff have received messages that nobody should be expected to receive in their workplace, as have our LGBTIQA+ community,” Diamond said. “In recent days, these threats have escalated to direct threats of violence involving the event itself.

“It is incredibly disappointing to have to cancel an event designed to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, but we were left with no choice after Victoria Police advised council of the risks.

In the end, we were unable to guarantee that we would be able to hold the event safely.”

Diamond said the event was designed to introduce children to diverse role models and encourage acceptance, love and respect, and she apologised to the LGBTQ community for the cancellation.

“I hope they understand we did not make this decision lightly and we share their disappointment,” she said.

“We understood this [event] was not for everyone and scheduled it outside our regular library programs so that parents planning to bring their children were making a deliberate choice to attend. Unfortunately, some in the community were not willing to allow that choice.”

Greens councillor Dr Josh Fergeus, who had been a vocal supporter of the drag event, said he supported Diamond’s decision as she had been put in an “impossible position”.

He criticised the state government for not being forthcoming with the support needed to proceed with the event safely.

“I think the state government has essentially failed to take these growing threats seriously and we now find ourselves in a position where local democracy is extremely vulnerable,” Fergeus said.

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