New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Tuesday responded to a demonstration during a LGBTQ community Pride event for children at a local library.
According to a Wednesday news release from the sheriff’s office, the Pine Valley branch of the New Hanover County library held a Pride story time event Tuesday in a private room of the library.
During the event, a small group of “demonstrators” assembled in the parking lot and eventually entered the library. According to photos posted on social media, the demonstrators appear dressed similarly to members of the far-right group, the Cape Fear Proud Boys, who attended several New Hanover County school board meetings in recent months.
The Proud Boys wear trademark black-and-yellow clothing and cover their faces with black masks. Earlier this month in Washington, the U.S. Justice Department charged five of the group’s members with seditious conspiracy in the Jan 6. attack in the U.S. Capitol.
A flyer advertising Tuesday’s event at the Pine Valley library described it as an “inclusive story time featuring LGBTQIA+ stories to celebrate all families.” The in-person event was geared toward children under 7 years old accompanied by adults.
Emily Jones said she took her 17-month-old daughter to the event.
“I felt like with the groups of people that are infiltrating these events, various Pride events, I felt like this story time was really one of the safest places I could take my daughter for a Pride event,” Jones said. “I just felt like it’s the library, it’s probably pretty low-risk.”
When she arrived, a few demonstrators were already outside dressed in plain clothes. Some held signs, Jones said, with messages written across them claiming “LGBT is grooming our kids” and “the library is responsible for child abuse.”
Jones said she was immediately nervous.
Six kids and four parents attended the event, Jones said, and an estimated 15 demonstrators showed up. The event proceeded for about 20 minutes, before the group entered the library, she said.
A sheriff’s office supervisor told the demonstrators they were not allowed to enter the room where the event was being held and positioned himself between the room and the demonstrators, a news release said.
In a statement, Linda Thompson, chief diversity and equity officer for New Hanover County, said the protesting group did not enter the library until after the event had ended, but participants were still inside the room.
“Anyone from the public is permitted inside the building as long as they are not actively protesting or disturbing other patrons, based on the library’s code of conduct,” she said.
Jones said while no demonstrators were able to gain access to the locked room, they looked inside through a glass window and “marched” in the hall outside the room while the event was still taking place.
Last week, the Anti-Defamation League reported that Proud Boys and other extremists, white supremacist groups have been targeting LGBTQ events across the country during the June Pride month, making claims that “members of the LGBTQ+ community are pedophiles who are ‘grooming’ children.
“Grooming” refers to actions taken by abusers to sexualize, manipulate and coerce minors, according to the ADL.
Incidents have been reported in Texas, Idaho, Florida, California, New Jersey, with an event in Georgia canceled, according to the ADL, because of “a credible death threat.”
More:Why do the US Capitol storming Proud Boys attend New Hanover school board meetings?
According to the sheriff’s office release, on Tuesday at the library deputies never saw the group cause any disturbance inside the building or try to enter the private room. Thompson’s statement reiterated that the group was not allowed in the private room and there was no disturbance inside the building.
Jones said she felt nervous and intimidated when the group was allowed inside the library.
The reading concluded and participants left without incident, law enforcement said. Jones said participants were asked to stay locked in the room after the event concluded for “safety reasons.” She said law enforcement eventually allowed her to leave out a side door of the building.
“I took an oath not to uphold opinions, but to uphold the law. Which is exactly what my supervisor and deputies did,” New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon said in the release.
Thompson said the parents and children participating in the program were “not in danger at any time.”
“I certainly felt like I was in danger when they entered the building,” Jones said.
Staff at the Pine Valley branch declined to comment on the event or demonstration.
Thompson said the library’s staff had coordinated safety protocols ahead of Tuesday’s event in collaboration with the sheriff’s office “to help ensure the safety of patrons and their ability to participate in activities without disruption, while also respecting the public’s right to protest outside.”
Jones said she wished she and the other parents would have been notified that safety was a concern prior to the event.
Thompson said deputies and library staff helped parents and children exit safely.
“The county celebrates all people, cultures, genders and gender identities and will continue to do that through our events, programs, and actions,” she said.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, “in the 17 months since Jan. 6, 2021, more than 800 individuals have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol, including over 250 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.”
Jamey Cross is the public safety reporter at the StarNews. Reach her at [email protected] or message her on Twitter @jameybcross.