A unified community preserves through the scare
The Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice (BRCSJ) was forced to relocate their Drag Queen Story Hour this weekend after the LGBTQ safe-space received a bomb threat.
Saturday, August 26, over 50 community members gathered at the Center located at 15 Stockton St, Princeton, for a Story Hour with Drag Queen Carrie Dragshaw (aka Dan Clay). Moments before the 11 a.m. event, as the queen was prepping her wig and children with their families were arriving, the Princeton Police Department approached the front door, advising the Center of the threat and their need to evacuate.
“I knew immediately that my first and foremost responsibility was to keep our community safe, but also to make sure that these wonderful kids who are here for this delightful event, weren’t scared and didn’t need to be involved in any sort of things that would ruin the day for them,” Robt Martin Seda-Schreiber, Founder & Chief Activist of the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice said. “There was never a consideration for us, myself or any members of our team or the community members that were there volunteering and helping us out, that we wouldn’t absolutely still hold this event, because we know that hate can never win.”
The Center worked quickly and calmly to make the building evacuation worryfree for parents and children. In fact, the kids were immersed in the experience, as if the walk outside was all part of the plan.
Dragshaw, without the Story Time books, and in a fabulous tutu and yellow baseball cap, which replaced the wig left behind at the center, led the children down the street in a conga line to a nearby building, where the Drag Queen Story Hour persevered.
“We simply took a fabulous field trip down the block to a nearby stoop and shared our stories, created community, and embraced each other, both literally and figuratively,” Seda-Schreiber said, “with great respect and even more love!”
As the show went on down the road, the Princeton Police Department scoped out the Center. According to Seda-Schreiber, the department’s bomb-sniffing police K-9 was not in town that day and unavailable locally. So, the Police Department had to call in another dog to clear the building. The department’s quick and efficient work to provide the community with safety is applauded by Seda-Schreiber and the Center.
Upon the completion of scoping the Center, the bomb threat was deemed a dud. Seda-Schreiber said the Princeton Police Department received notice of the threat from News12, who originally received a threatening call. Police are currently investigating the incident and attempting to uncover who made the false call.
“The bomb threat turned out to be a dud, defused by the creativity and solidarity of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies,” Martha Hickson, NJLA Librarian of the Year & BRCSJ Librarian-in-Residence said. “The Center’s quick, calm, and caring approach was impressive; the kids thought the walk down the block was all part of the fun. I was proud to stand openly in support of love and inclusivity, while hate hid in the shadows.”
In an unexpected way, Seda-Schreiber said this improvised, outdoor Drag Queen Story Hour allowed the community to connect on a deeper level. A parent from the crowd happened to have a drag queen celebration book, which they offered to Dragshaw to read to the children. And when the reading stopped, conversations began, conversations Seda-Schreiber said might not have happened if the day went according to plan.
“It allowed for this other experience that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. And who’s to say it wasn’t, if not, as good, maybe even better, that we had this special moment — this meaningful moment together,” he said.
At the show, Dragshaw noticed a sign that put the situation into perspective.
“I think the voices of negativity can be loud, but I believe the voices of positivity are greater,” Dragshaw said. “A kid was wearing a shirt that said, ‘We’re stronger together,’ and I really believe that.”
When the community ultimately returned to the center, families who parked their car behind the building had to wait about an hour to leave, for the parking lot to be cleared as safe. But in another community act of kindness, staff of the Center and families who parked elsewhere volunteered to drive families home or to other locations if need-be.
Although Seda-Schreiber said The BRCSJ and marginalized communities as a whole are always aware of the constant threat towards their communities, nothing like this bomb threat has ever happened to the Center. But, in a way, Seda-Schreiber said the way Saturday’s bomb threat was handled exemplifies how the LGBTQ community combats hate.
“We’re always threatened. We’re always looked to as being lesser. And that’s why we have to stay together, stand together in solidarity, in strength, and as I said before, especially in love,” he said. “This day was just a wonderful example of that. Ya know, I think that this is what we do. This is how we do it.”