An anti-drag campaigner who was part of a protest outside North Walsham Library against a Drag Queen Story Time has been convicted of hate crimes.
Christopher Mitchell, a welder who lives in Caister-on-Sea, has been sentenced to a 12-month community order.
He is required to carry out 20 rehabilitation days and 150 hours of unpaid work, and has been ordered to pay a fine of £1,500, Eastern Daily Press reported.
The conviction follows the 33-year-old taking part in a protest in August 2022 alongside other anti-drag activists, which saw North Walsham Library’s story time event by drag queen ‘Auntie’ Titania Trust cancelled.
Appearing at Great Yarmouth Magistrates Court on 12 April, Mitchell, who represented himself, denied sending threats, but had earlier pleaded guilty to two charges of sending malicious communications.
The court heard that Mitchell revealed the real name of the drag artist, Joseph Ballard, in social media posts in which he accused him of “grooming children” – an age-old right-wing slur that is backed up by zero evidence.
Crown prosecutor Emma Pocknell shared that in a Facebook post, Mitchell had written that parents whose children were to attend the event at North Walsham Library “clearly have serious issues and should have their devices checked”.
Further evidence shared in court showed he had uploaded a YouTube video that included derogatory comments about Ballard.
Drag queen left ‘paranoid and fearful’ by anti-drag protest
Emma Pocknell noted that the posts had a “profound effect” on Joseph Ballard and were aggravated due to being considered hate crimes.
Following the protest, Pocknell shared that Ballard had been left paranoid and fearful of being targeted and required additional security when appearing in a later pantomime.
“I genuinely feared for my life and safety and others around me,” said Ballard, who claimed £9,000 compensation, including £6,000 for loss of earnings and £2,000 for extra security measures.
Titania Trust is a songstress and cabaret entertainer who has been performing for more than 10 years, according to her website.
‘Bigotry and hate is on the rise’
Joseph Ballard told PinkNews that when performing as Titania Trust, his story time is called ‘Storytime with Auntie Titania’, but clarified it isn’t part of the Drag Queen Story Hour franchise.
“It appears that bigotry and hate is on the rise,” he said.
“We have seen it with a rise in attacks upon the LGBTQ+ community and increasing transphobia in the media and politicians.
“I was targeted and used for the far-right self-claiming Nazis to forward their agenda of division and hate. They are targeting other drag artists who do similar things too.”
Ballard added: “We must stop them and do the right thing at every opportunity. We must speak out, be heard and show the goodness in the world.”
Ballard shared that has been “humbled” by the “love and support” he has received since last summer, adding that he was able to produce his own family pantomime at Christmas, which was his “first big appearance since everything”.
“The events of last summer haven’t stopped for any of us – but it’s not just at a library.
“Abuse is online and elsewhere too. I’m glad that some justice has come from this but there is so much more to do when it comes to changing attitudes and educating people.”
Anti-drag attacks surged in 2022
Drag Queen Story Hour, also known as Drag Queen Story Time, sees local drag queens visit schools and libraries to read to children, promoting inclusion and acceptance of the diversity in the world.
However, the far-right have consistently targeted the educational sessions, claiming they are “grooming children”.
In December 2022, a bar in Seattle was hit by gunfire ahead of a scheduled protest against the venue’s Drag Queen Story Hour and bingo night.
In the same month, LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD reported that there had been a horrifying 142 attacks on drag shows in the US in 2022, following repressive bills seeking to ban or restrict drag performances being proposed across seven US states.
Sadly, attacks on the drag community have continued in 2023. In March, a church in Ohio was firebombed with a Molotov cocktail ahead of its planned drag event.
‘The event became about something more than story time’
In the UK, drag artist Miss Peaches shared a “heartbreaking” statement after her story time event was cancelled due to threats of violence.
In December 2022, Miss Peaches said: “I chose to cancel because the event became about something more than a story time. It was overshadowed by a transphobic, queerphobic, bigoted hate campaign.
“I didn’t want children being faced with a mob of people holding signs. Kids being faced with a drag queen on one hand and an angry mob on the other.”