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Officials, advocates offer differing versions after Proud Boys disrupt Pride Storytime event

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Proud Boys and other protestors walking through the Pine Valley Library. New Hanover County Chief DEI Officer Linda Thompson is seated on the right.

On Tuesday evening, the Pride event for young kids at the Pine Valley Library was interrupted by protestors, including members of the local Proud Boys group. Officials say there was no disturbance and participants were never in danger — but advocates for the queer community describe the event differently.

Most parties agree on some basic facts: the Tuesday event, “Pride Storytime,” was held for children under 7 in the Osprey Room of the Pine Valley Library from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. According to the county, the event would include “books featuring LGBTQIA+ families and all the many different varieties families come in, like Daddy & Dada by Ryan Brockington and Isaac Webster and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman” and would be followed by a crafting session.

The event was limited to people accompanying children and who had registered ahead of time.

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Protestors outside the Pine Valley Library on Tuesday.

Outside of the library, protestors gathered with signs with messages like “pedophiles are using LGBTQ to groom kids,” “stop supplying pornography to our students” and “New Hanover County guilty of child abuse.”

Then the Proud Boys decided to enter the library and, at that point, there are different narratives.

What advocates report 

Community advocates Angie Kahney, Ashley Daniels, and Sandy Eyles were all present at the event. They showed up after seeing social media posts indicating a protest was being planned. Kahney shared screenshots with WHQR, taken from an individual’s post on social media discussing the library’s event.

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According to Kahney and Daniels, who were inside the library, a Black man wearing a ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ hat left the protest outside, came inside, got directions to the Osprey Room and unsuccessfully tried to enter. He then left and went back outside.

Shortly after, seven or eight Proud Boys entered the library and headed directly to the Osprey Room. Daniels was further away, but recognized one from New Hanover County Board of Education meetings. She heard them make disparaging comments about the event. Kahney, who was closer, said she heard speaking loudly and shouting, calling the event “wicked,” making comments about “using taxpayer money for pornography,” and asking to “see the drag queen” – an apparent reference to other Pride events around the country which have featured drag queens.

The Proud Boys attempted to gain access to the storytime event, according to Kahney and Daniels. While they were denied entry, Kahney said they were shouting loud enough for parents and children inside to hear.

Afterward, Kahney and Daniels said the Proud Boys “paraded” through the library, attempting to engage with some patrons about pornography in the library and trying to intimidate other people before leaving. Kahney said the people were left extremely uncomfortable.

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Protestors outside the Pine Valley Library.

Kahney said advocates encouraged parents and children to leave through a side door, thinking the protestors were in front of the main interest. But, according to her, and smartphone photos she shared with WHQR, the protestors had moved around to the side exit as well — and were shouting at and berating parents as they fled to their cars.

Eyles, who was outside, said the protestors rushed the families as they left the library. Many were left shaken, Eyles said. Kahney said she saw children crying.

Kahney said she’d spoken with parents who were left upset and concerned about future events: “I can say that there are parents that I spoke to at the event after the event, and even today, who are still all worked up and scared, like, should they go to the pride picnic this weekend?”

Kahney also said some attendees had been told that protestors would be kept outside and technically, the Proud Boys had left their protest signs outside, according to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO) and other witnesses. Still, Kahney said those parents had perhaps had a false sense of security.

What officials are saying

NHCSO confirmed that it was aware of concerns about the event and had adequate resources available. NHCSO stated that the Proud Boys had not broken the law, and denied any allegations that deputies had ‘escorted’ them to the Osprey Room or had been otherwise fraternizing with them.

In a statement, NHCSO declared there had been no disturbances and that participants had left the event “with no incident.”

On June 21, 2022 the New Hanover County Library hosted a Pride story time reading at the New Hanover County Library Pine Valley branch. During the event, which was held in a private room in the library, a group of demonstrators assembled in the parking lot of the library. Sheriff Deputies responded to a call of disturbance. After a period of time a small group of the demonstrators entered the library which is open to the public. 

A Sheriff’s Office supervisor entered the library and positioned himself between the private room holding the reading and the demonstrators. The supervisor instructed the demonstrators that they were not allowed to enter the room. At no time did Sheriff Deputies witness nor did any library staff report any of the demonstrators causing a disturbance within the library or try to enter the private room that was holding the reading.  After the reading, all the participants left the library with no incident. 

Linda Thompson, the county’s Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity officer, was present at the event, and provided her perspective in a statement, also saying there was “no disturbance.”

"The library staff worked collaboratively with the Sheriff's deputies throughout the event, and had coordinated safety protocols ahead of time as well 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.

" Prior to the Storytime event and during it, deputies and library staff worked to ensure the protesters were not blocking the entrance to the library so patrons could enter. And after the Storytime program had ended, several members of the protesting group wanted to come inside. 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. The library director came inside with them and deputies quickly made their way to the door of Storytime, to ensure safety for library patrons and staff who were still in the room.

"The members of the protesting group were not allowed in the closed room where the event had been held and families were still in, and there was no disturbance inside the building. Sheriff’s deputies and library staff also provided help to parents and kids who were still in attendance (some had left already) on where to exit the library following the event. Parents and children were not in danger at any time. The county celebrates all people, cultures, genders and gender identities and will continue to do that through our events, programs, and actions,” she wrote.

Thompson also noted that legally anyone who isn’t violating library policy can be there. She also said parents and children were not in danger at any time.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that the social media comments shared by Kahney were from screenshots of personal accounts, not the library page.