Seven members of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, disrupted a Pride Month children’s storytime event at the St. Joseph County Public Library’s Virginia M. Tutt Branch Monday.
The group has participated in right-wing protests and acts of political violence, including the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Five leaders, including its former chairman, were indicted this June on charges of seditious conspiracy for their alleged roles there.
And as part of the growth of hateful right-wing rhetoric against LGBTQ people, Proud Boys and other far-right groups have turned up at Pride parades and events like drag queen story hours at local libraries across the country to intimidate and harass people.
On June 27, the St. Joseph County Public Library planned to host a Rainbow Family Storytime and arts and crafts children’s program at the Virginia M. Tutt Branch in honor of Pride Month.
The event was a partnership between the library and TREES, a Michiana organization that provides resources for the local transgender community and operates the Tree House Gender Resource center in downtown South Bend.
But before the event was set to start, seven men — all Proud Boys — entered the library and began arguing with staff and patrons. Several displayed white supremacist symbols, according to photos posted on social media.
Police were called — and the group left after about 40 minutes — but they caused so much disruption that the event had to be canceled.
“This definitely came as a shock,” library system communications manager Marissa Gebhard said. “We were not anticipating any problems.”
The library plans to reschedule the event in a few months, and Gebhard said the system wants everyone to feel safe and welcome at its branches.
“Our mission is to welcome everyone and provide resources and support and information to all members of our community,” Gebhard said. “All of our libraries are safe places, and we want to continue to ensure that all of our libraries are safe, and that people feel safe in our libraries.”
Each branch typically has a public safety officer present, and Gebhard said the library is currently determining if additional security measures are needed for similar future events.
“The bottom line is that the library will continue to offer inclusive programming,” Gebhard said. “The library is a place of belonging, and it’s a place for everyone.”