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Protesters gather at keiki event featuring drag queen storytime

Drag queens Tara Way (left) and Candi Shell (right) read children's books at the Keiki Community Fair at ʻAʻala Park in Honolulu.
Taylor Cullen
Drag queens Tara Way (left) and Candi Shell (right) read children's books at the Keiki Community Fair at ʻAʻala Park in Honolulu.

A community resource fair in Honolulu was occupied by protesters this weekend after it was announced that two local drag queens would host a keiki storytime event.

Family Promise of Hawaiʻi's Keiki Community Fair invited drag performers Candi Shell and Tara Way, stating that the performers had "previously brought their family-friendly entertainment to a wide range of community events, from church groups to graduation parties."

"Our primary goal was just to provide things like free food, books, clothes — the basic needs that families need," said Ryan Catalani, executive director of Family Promise.

During the event, protesters both for and against the drag queens carried signs expressing their opinions. Some signs were religious, while others urged for "love."

 Protestors and counter-protestors circle around the park while drag queens read a story to children.
Zoe Dym
Protestors and counter-protestors circle around the park while drag performers read a story to children.

Protesters were ordered to stay on the other side of a paved road that cut through the park.

At one point, supporters of the drag performers made a human shield around them for protection.

"Me and Tara and the kids were never exposed to any negativity or yelling or any of that nonsense because there were people positioned who stood out there keeping us blocked," Candi Shell said.

She added that she has never felt "such a strong sense of community."

Last week, state Rep. Elijah Pierick released a statement on social media about the event. The video showed footage of the performers, in which Pierick urged his constituents to contact officials if they deemed it inappropriate.

Pierick has a history of telling his social media followers to act when they see something that goes against traditional Conservative values. Last March, the first-term lawmaker faced public backlash for a video he posted calling on the community to contact the ʻEwa Makai Middle School principal after he noticed a pride flag outside her office.

Joel Borgquist, CEO of Hawaiʻi Conservatives, was specifically concerned that the storytime event was being held on public property.

"We believe very strongly in personal freedom, and people can do what they want with their personal lives. But an event like this that’s public property and that is partly publicly funded and it’s dealing with keiki, this is not about personal liberty or personal freedom," Borgquist stated.

Borgquist was also concerned about government involvement with the event. The state Department of Health provided funding for the event infrastructure and rentals like chairs and tables. The DOH also paid for gift cards that were handed out to families experiencing homelessness.

"There isn’t room or an invitation for a voice from the other side so we’re being really silenced even now," said Borgquist, referring to the Republican party.

Despite the protests, the Keiki Community Fair continued on with the storytime event.

The performers read the children's books "Leonardo, the Terrible Monster" and "Going on a Bear Hunt." They did not read any books relating to gender and sexuality.

"People put themselves possibly in harm's way to make sure we were able to do this," Candi Shell told HPR.

The performance was cut short after officials were notified of an individual wearing a vest while circling the park. The performers were escorted out by security guards.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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