Screenshots of a video taken by an attendee of the Drag Queen Story Hour event at San Lorenzo Library on Saturday, June 11, 2022. The men were identified by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office as suspects in the incident where homophobic slurs were yelled at Kyle Chu, who was dressed in drag reading stories to children.
Content warning: This article contains multiple uncensored uses of derogatory phrases that some may find highly offensive.
The Saturday book reading for preschoolers started out as many previous readings had before: Drag queen Panda Dulce appeared with elaborate and carefully styled makeup, her swooped eyebrows arching like peaks as she belted out the "welcome song" for a handful of kids and their parents at San Lorenzo Library.
"Hello, children! Hello, grown-ups! Hello, everyone, it's nice to see you here," she sang. The children sat in a semi-circle on the library floor, crooning along with Dulce.
As she sang, a line of men entered the library, single-file. Some wore the signature black-and-yellow colors of the far-right Proud Boys group, law enforcement officials said. One of the men's shirts read "Kill Your Local Pedophile" on it, emblazoned over a gun.
They sat down behind the children. When the singing stopped, the shouting started.
"So who brought the tranny?" they yelled, directed straight at Dulce. They called her an "it," and a "pedophile." Dulce, fearing violence, hid in the back office with a security guard.
"I didn’t know if they were armed. I was only acutely aware of the fact that neither myself nor any of the other librarians were," she told KQED. In an Instagram post, Dulce said the men "totally freaked out the kids. They got right in our faces. They jeered. They attempted to escalate to violence."
Alameda County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to the scene, but by the time they got there, some of those shouting obscenities had dispersed. No arrests were made. No one was injured.
Alameda County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Lt. Ray Kelly said the sheriffs believed they were responding to a disturbance, and that "at the time, there was no reason to do an arrest."
"It wasn't till later that we discovered that it was targeted hate speech and that it was done by design and organization," he said. "We'll follow up now with this change in events and the dynamics of the disturbance."
Now the Alameda County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, with the intent to annoy or harass children. They're asking the parents and Panda Dulce, whose name is Kyle Casey Chu, whether they'd like to file a complaint.
"We're looking at this through a hate crimes lens based on the information, the fact that these individuals went into the library, they were verbally and physically aggressive in their demeanor and in their approach," Lt. Kelly said. "They caused the organizer of that event to actually flee the area. So there was fear of attack there, of assault. And then we ... as well as that, there were children present in the library at the time. And so that would also be considered a crime. You cannot annoy or harass children in the state of California."
The FBI's San Francisco bureau released a statement on Tuesday regarding the disruption. “The FBI is aware of this incident and we are in regular contact with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. If, in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate.”
A joint statement was released by Bay Area officials on Sunday evening condemning what they call "the senseless act of hate" caused during the Drag Queen Story Hour.
The Drag Queen Story Hour was intended as a celebration of Pride Month for kids in the small East Bay town of 30,000 people. Chu, who hails from San Francisco, has been a part of Drag Queen Story Hour since at least 2017.
The event was created by Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions in San Francisco in 2015 as a way to celebrate reading "through the glamorous art of drag," according to the organization, and has 50 chapters in the United States.
"That's a Pandora's box has been opened and people feel very okay with attacking our community," said State Sen. Scott Wiener. "We're seeing political attacks around the country and we're seeing actual violence. These attacks are related and they are fueled by the extreme right wing political rhetoric from politicians like like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, but also from right wing influencers on social media who post all sorts of atrocious material attacking me and attacking LGBTQ people in general."
San Lorenzo is in the East Bay district of Rep. Eric Swalwell, who wrote in a statement Sunday, "Today while on a plane back to Washington, DC, I learned about an attack in our community by members of the Proud Boys. We must reject this hate and extremism whenever it shows itself, which is why I will be returning home this Thursday to meet with law enforcement and the community. There is no place for this hate in the East Bay, and we all need to speak up with one voice in saying so.”
The Proud Boys are considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit monitoring domestic hate groups and extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Proud Boys as known for anti-Muslim and misogynist rhetoric, whose leaders regularly echo white nationalist memes.
The incident was far from isolated.
In the town of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on the same day, 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were arrested for conspiracy to riot, and were believed to be headed to a local "Pride in the Park" event, according to NPR. The group is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
And just recently, San Lorenzo's Drag Queen Story Hour had gained notoriety in spaces that regularly lambaste the LGBTQ+ community.
While the thread has since been taken down, it amassed more than 4 million impressions. The thread was removed from being seen in Germany by Twitter, and the @LibsofTikTok account was temporarily locked out for "abuse and harassment" by Twitter and urged to delete the thread, the organization said in their newsletter. KQED reached out to @LibsofTikTok and will update this article should they provide comment.
The event caused concern in the wider LGBTQ+ community in the Bay Area. Sister Roma, of the San Francisco-based Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, said it was a reminder for the community to be vigilant.
"It just goes to show that even though we've made such great progress in our community and in the trans community, there's still so much work to do," Roma said. "We can never be content with the accomplishments that we have because as we've seen with the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, any of our rights can be swept away with the stroke of the pen. So it's important to stay vigilant, to stay involved, to stay awake and to stay motivated, to protect what we have, and to continue to fight for our rights in our community."
Chu did not say whether he would press charges against the men who stormed his book reading.
But, he said, "no words can appropriately capture the immediacy and terror [you] feel when [you] realize there is no buffer between [you] and these men. That they are likely armed and you are utterly defenseless."
Despite that fear, Chu later came out of the back office and finished his reading to the children. The book he read is called, "Families, Families, Families!" by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang, about diverse families depicted as cartoon animals.
"Some children have two dads. Some children have one mom," the book reads, showcasing families with just grandparents, single fathers, or step-siblings. "If you love each other, then you are a family."
Chu read every word.
That night he couldn't sleep. He still felt he was in fight-or-flight mode, a visceral feeling of panic.
"But," he said, "I'm just glad I finished the story."
KQED's Kate Wolffe and Annelise Finney contributed reporting for this story.