70-year-old Ontario biker makes it her mission to protect people at drag queen storytimes
If public libraries have become the battleground for LGBTQ rights, Patricia Ginn of Strathroy, Ont., is on the front line.
At 70, Ginn, who regularly sports a black leather vest, says she doesn't scare easily. She rides a 2023 Indian Dark Horse motorcycle and makes it her mission to support drag queen storytime events across southern Ontario.
Last month, amid dozens of protesters, Ginn, along with three other members of the motorcycle group WindSisters, stood outside the Parkhill, Ont., branch of the Middlesex County Library to support performers at a drag queen storytime, and escort participating families and supporters into the building.
About 100 people from the town, which has a population of fewer than 2,000, were in attendance.
While some of the protesters prayed, others were more aggressive, said Ginn, who came out in her 20s and describes herself as a masculine-presenting lesbian.
She recently moved from Toronto to Strathroy to be closer to family.
"It was brutal for two hours," she said about last month's protest.
"They were in our face, pushing and shoving, screaming, calling us everything they could think of.
"They actually went up to several members who were walking in with their children and called them pedophiles."
Lindsay Brock, Middlesex County's director of library services, also expressed concerns about potential reaction to the storytime event.
"My biggest fear going in was that children would be targeted, and that their experience would be ruined and it would be kind of a scary experience. Some families unfortunately did experience that because it was not a peaceful protest outside."
Ontario Provincial Police were at the event, and leading up to it, had worked closely with the county. Brock said police will meet with her this week for a post-mortem on how it all played out.
Protests building in small-town Ontario
The Parkhill event was the first drag queen storytime since 2019 and the first with so many protesters gathered outside, said Brock.
"I think that it's in the news," she said. "We're hearing things that are happening south of the border, and it's kind of mingling with concerns and feelings that people are having here locally."
In the seven years since Michelle Tea launched Drag Queen Story Hour in San Francisco, similar performances have popped up in libraries and other venues across North America, growing in popularity until they got pulled into the U.S. culture wars after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot in Washington.
Despite the protest in Parkhill, Middlesex is undeterred and has plans to hold two more drag queen storytimes in the weeks to come. The Komoka branch will host its own event May 27. Another one is planned in Strathroy on June 24.
The OPP are working alongside the county again this time, said Brock.
"We need our libraries to reflect our communities and the wide range of people that live in our communities, but also recognize that there are underrepresented and underserved groups across Middlesex County."
"The harm protesters do is multi-layered," said Strathroy Pride director Frank Emanuele, who also attended the Parkhill event with his family. "For protesters to behave in such verbally aggressive ways not only deters people from attending our events, but it reaffirms many of the fears our community already feels about being safe in public spaces."
Emanuele said protesters also yelled insults at him.
"My own children had to hear those words being yelled at me which lead to much needed debriefing and explanations about irrational human behaviour."
So far, Ginn plans to attend two more drag queen storytimes next month at library branches in neighbouring Oxford County: in Ingersoll and in Tillsonburg.
"I want our children to be able to safely walk into a library for storytime on Saturday morning in small-town Ontario without harassment," said Ginn.
"I don't think it's any accident that there are more protests targeting our small local communities," she said. "They show up openly, display their hatred of anyone different and stir the pot of homophobia."
LISTEN | Patricia Ginn speaks on why she and her motorcycle friends helped people at a drag story time in Parkhill, Ont.: