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Normalising Hate: New Report Highlights the Spread of Anti-Drag Sentiment in the UK

Far right groups have infiltrated anti-LGBTQ+ protests, and are influencing government policy a new report reveals

A man protests Drag Queen Story Hour in Texas in 2019. Photo: Scott Coleman/ZUMA Wire/Alamy

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In August last year, Byline Times revealed how the Far Right had infiltrated anti-vax chat groups, shifting their focus from Covid vaccines to the supposed evils of Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH). A report released today by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) echoes these findings and highlights the way in which anti-drag sentiment has embedded itself into both public thinking and government policy as part of a wider, anti-LGBT cultural shift.

The report covers Australia, the US and Europe in the year from June 2022 to May 2023 and logs a total of 57 anti-DQSH protests across the UK; the second-highest incidence of anti-drag mobilisation after the US. Whilst the US protests were more obviously far right in nature, including two events where an armed neo-nazi group showed up waving swastika flags, the majority of UK protestors tried to distance themselves from the Nationalist element. 

As we reported last year, conspiracy group leaders denied any link to the far right, seemingly unaware of the Nationalist rhetoric which had been drip-fed into their chat groups for almost a year before the first protest took place. This denial was also present at a small DQSH protest in Cornwall which Byline Times attended, wherein protestors claimed to be unconnected to the far right despite handing out leaflets for white nationalist collective Patriotic Alternative (PA).

PA features heavily in the ISD report, which notes their involvement in 36% of all anti-DQSH events which took place over the year. Using the protests as an inroad to promote the Great Replacement conspiracy (which posits that white people are becoming a UK minority and that this is a deliberate act of ‘white genocide’ by the government), the group’s involvement was noted by Hope Not Hate as being “highly opportunistic”. 

Speaking to Byline Times, the report’s author – Aoife Gallagher – said “I don’t believe everyone who gets into this stuff is a bad person. They’ve been manipulated into believing this stuff and they do believe it’s the right thing. It’s quite sad to see them putting so much energy into this when they could put it into something which could change the world.” Regarding the involvement of Patriotic Alternative, Gallagher said “PA are using these events as recruitment tools to pull people in and probably don’t even believe in a lot of what they are saying.”

Determined to step away from this association, at the start of this year far-right student group Turning Point UK took control of the protests. Gathering at the Honor Oak Pub in East London, TPUK made a show of disinviting “PA, the National Front and other extremists”, which had absolutely no effect on their few supporters who included ex-BNP members and one who gave a Nazi salute on camera.

Over the course of a month, their management of the event became noticeably weaker as increasing numbers of “extremists” rolled in, encouraged by ex-EDL founder Tommy Robinson and others on Telegram. Their featured speakers attended fewer events and, by April this year, Pastor Rikki Doolan had disappeared from the TPUK digital fliers completely when his involvement with an alleged Zimbabwean gold smuggling operation was revealed by Al Jazeera. 

From Protest to Parliament

Although the anti-DQSH events at the Honor Oak have continued, their attendance is poor and those protesting are vastly outnumbered by counter-protestors. Of greater concern now is the way in which this rhetoric has made its way into parliament and the tabloid media. 

Speaking at PMQs in March, MP Miriam Cates who runs Christo-Nationalist think tank the New Covenant, presented a 400-page report on the teaching of Sex Ed in schools. In April, LBC reported that Cates had referred to the inclusion of DQSH in schools as “highly concerning” adding that the NEU was “endorsing the exposure of young children to drag queens dressed and performing in a highly sexualised way in the supposed safety of the classroom.”

The idea that DQSH is an adult-drag performance thrust upon unsuspecting toddlers is a theme which has run throughout all protests over the last year. Even at the protest we attended, where the storyteller and children were visible through floor-to-ceiling windows, protestors claimed it to be an inappropriate “grooming event”. To date, none of the UK DQSH events has involved “highly sexualised” performances, concentrating instead on drag queens reading children’s books and other toddler-appropriate entertainment. 

This fact-free hysteria is a key feature of all the chat groups tracked by our investigation and, as Gallagher states in the report, “speak to a wider anti-LGBTQ+ mobilisation in the UK [raising] concerns about a backsliding trend in LGBTQ+ rights.”

A number of right-wing media outlets have also jumped on the bandwagon – most notably the Daily Mail which began this month advertising the best places to celebrate Pride, but this week published a panic piece from controversial headteacher Katherine Birbalsingh claiming that students are allowed to identify as cats. This follows their earlier story based on an audio recording of a teacher telling pupils that there are two sexes but many gender identities. 


Dead Cats and Transphobic Lies

The political and media firestorm over a school girl claiming to identify as a cat, turns out to be a story ‘too good to check’. Byline Times has spoken to a witness

The Mail themselves acknowledge that the teacher in the clip makes no remarks about students identifying as cats, yet still chose this as the headline, sparking a week of anti-LGBT fury online. There is no evidence that any school is encouraging pupils to identify as animals, but the statement is unsurprising given that Birbalsingh made the same claim when she addressed the National Conservatism conference last month.

The hard right event, attended by Conservative culture warriors and think-tank members focused on the supposed dangers of “cultural marxism”, “identity politics and radical gender ideology”. Birbalsingh used her speech to warn parents against the dangers of “woke” schools, claiming that children were allowed to identify as cats and that allowing them to “lead” schools would lead to us “losing our country”. Many of the speeches at the conference focused on similar issues, effectively mainstreaming ideas which, up until last year, we had only seen expressed in conspiracy and far-right chat groups. 

Tory links to the far right and its conspiratorial thinking are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. In March last year, VICE News revealed how a youth group with links to Turning Point, the ADF and alt-right figures had members working as aides to MPs. In February this year, Conservative Chairman Lee Anderson was revealed to have links to white nationalists and, this week, Rishi Sunak said that teachers should “intervene” to stop children identifying as animals, despite clear evidence that this is not happening. 

Gallagher commented on this saying that “The unfounded claim that there were kids identifying as cats is used to portray the issues around gender identity as being completely batshit [but] there is very little evidence that this is actually happening. It’s a really nasty element of it all ”. She added that “there is a coalition of different actors which came out of the pandemic [which has ensured] there’s now a ready-made audience for [whatever the next conspiracy is]. It’s a cause for concern that the Tories are leaning into this stuff…actually falling backwards into it, in a really massive way and it’s a very very worrying development overall.”

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