Recent Comments

    Pride 2022: ‘We Are Panda Dulce’

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    Six years to the day that 49 mostly Latinx members of the LGBTIQ community were senselessly shot and killed, and 53 others wounded at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, another very public hate crime against our community took place right here in the Bay Area.

    As the beautiful and talented drag queen Panda Dulce sang her welcome song to the little children gathered for Drag Queen Story Hour at the San Lorenzo Public Library, a threatening and intimidating group of men thought to be members of the far-right extremist Proud Boys barged into the library to disrupt the event, shouting transphobic and other anti-LGBTIQ slurs. One man’s shirt had an image of an assault weapon emblazoned upon it with the menacing phrase: “Kill Your Local Pedophile.” Dulce, the children, their parents, and the library staff feared that the men were armed and might open fire on them. Thankfully, they did not. But only after the sheriff’s department was called and all of the men had gone, could the then-terrorized participants continue with the story hour.

    Six years ago, we marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade with hundreds of other people wearing matching t-shirts that read: “We Are Orlando.” This year, we say: “We Are Panda Dulce.” Dulce’s actions and words that day and in subsequent days, as reported by various news sources identified here, truly inspire us.

    As the incident unfolded and the men ignored the librarian’s request that they leave, Dulce immediately had an instinctive wisdom and clarity of mind to deescalate the situation in order to help protect the safety of the children and everyone else there. In a social media post, Dulce described how the men “totally freaked out the kids. They got right in our faces. They jeered. They attempted to escalate to violence.” Instead of engaging the men in a shouting match, Dulce “realized that I wasn’t helping the situation by still being present, so I was taken to a safe room and the sheriff was called.” 

    Dulce has been completely honest and revealing about how frightening the men’s actions were. “No words can appropriately capture the immediacy and terror [you] feel when [you] realize there is no buffer between [you] and these men. That they are likely armed and you are utterly defenseless,” she explained. And her trauma was ongoing. Over two days after the event, she said, “I still feel like I’m in that room. I’ve had trouble sleeping. Everyone’s asking if I’m okay and the answer is I’m not.” 

    Dulce’s authenticity and not putting on false bravado offers validation and hope to all of us who have been subject to bullying or acts of hate or violence, and feel shame or embarrassment about the fear and trauma we experienced at the hands of our abusers. Dulce assures us: “Queer people are resilient and creative and resourceful, and we’re going to be fine.”

    Most importantly, Dulce did not let her fear stop her from returning and resuming the story hour. “I refuse to be intimidated by people who have myopic worldviews,” she said.

    Dulce shared that a central purpose of Drag Queen Story Hour is to provide “kids access to diverse role models,” something that “is universally beneficial whether you’re queer, trans, or cis, because our world is diverse.” She especially wants to be there for LGBTIQ kids: “I did not have queer icons to look up to and I didn’t have representation to model myself after. And when you do story hour, sometimes there are queer kids, and you can really tell because they light up in a way where you just know, and you have that immediate connection.” On that terrifying Saturday afternoon, “I continued the reading even though it was so scary because I want kids to know even though they might get flack for being who they are, that they need to persist and that they are doing the absolute right thing showing up as their selves.”

    Doing drag is about many things, among them self-worth, empowerment, and joy. As a librarian featured on Panda Dulce’s website says, “Kids just love drag queens. Because they’re fabulous. They’re magical creatures.”

    We love how Panda Dulce embodies the vibrancy and courage of drag queens and the LGBTIQ community more generally. Initially referring to the men who tried to disrupt the San Lorenzo story hour, she proclaimed: “These people have clearly never met a drag queen before, because drag queens do not do obscurity. Queer people do not do quiet. We know that silence equals death, and we are not going to back down. We are not going to shrink back into the closet.”

    That’s what Pride is all about. Happy Pride 2022, everyone!  We are Panda Dulce.

    (We gratefully acknowledge the reporting of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Teen Vogue, Yahoo News, NBC Bay Area, and KQED.)

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    Published on June 23, 2022