Taking On Far-Right Bullies Who Target Rainbow Storytimes – Opinion
By Cr Tim Baxter
Every Wednesday at 2 pm, St Kilda Library hosts a Spanish language storytime for kids. Families come along to enjoy a story in Spanish, perhaps their native tongue. Spanish-speaking kids feel welcome and comfortable, and non-Spanish-speaking kids get to experience something different and learn from Hispanic cultures through storytelling.
Most people would celebrate this activity. To oppose it would be considered racist. So why do we allow far-right extremists to target Rainbow storytimes?
Just like the Spanish storytime, Rainbow storytimes allow kids to feel welcome and teach them that people are different and that these differences are worth celebrating. Sometimes the reader can reflect that themselves if they are a drag queen or openly queer. These types of activities are hugely important, particularly for Rainbow families, and teach kids acceptance and understanding of others.
Council Staff Face Threats
Yet time and again, Councils have felt compelled to cancel these events to maintain the safety of staff in the face of opposition from tiny yet coordinated far-right terrorist groups. In doing so, Councils have handed a victory to the far right, comprised of neo nazis and religious extremists, among others. The terrorists celebrate each win, advertising it as a victory in their war against “groomers”, a term they use to describe anyone who accepts that queer people exist.
In Port Phillip, we cancelled an event due to such threats. In response, a community storytime event was held on the lawn of St Kilda Town Hall, which was well attended and kept safe by the Rainbow Community Angels. Our community won’t be intimidated that easily.
Nevertheless, the cycle is easily established. Threaten the safety of attendees, get a cancellation, rinse and repeat. Soon, there are no events being held. How do we break this cycle?
Power Of Grassroots Community
I believe a two-pronged approach is necessary, combining grassroots community initiatives with legislative change.
First, local support for the LGBTIQA+ community will always be stronger than support for neo-Nazis. Empowering the community to support these events and keep them safe is essential. This means welcoming local queer activists to help councils create non-violent, community events.
Second, we need stronger anti-vilification protections to respond to hate when it occurs. This could be coupled with legislation for Safe Access Zones for libraries and other community buildings during such events, such as those that apply to abortion providers in Victoria. These laws have been instrumental in removing hate groups from harassing women seeking healthcare and could be a template for how we can keep families safe going forward.
By harnessing the power of our grassroots community, and the state’s power to legislate, I believe we can – and will – beat the bullies.
Tim Baxter is Councillor for Canal Ward, City of Port Phillip