The First Amendment protects the citizens’ right of assembly. But what happens when those being protested against are children? The Colorado Proud Boys and several antifascist activists exercised their First Amendment rights this Sunday… at the front of a children’s drag show. This drag show, held in Denver, Colorado, brings performance-driven LGBTQ-identifying children aged 7-12 to strut their stuff for onstage in front of their parents and peers once a month.
The organizer, Chuck Rozanski, stated that he respects the free speech rights of the “Colorado Proud Boys,” a fascist traditionalist group protesting at the event – but Rozanski believes that the show is a safe space for children, and that the Proud Boys’ argument that the children are being “sexualized” is nonsensical. The drag show is nothing like the infamous “Toddlers and Tiaras” children’s pageants – the children in these shows are present on their own terms and performing for a supportive audience, without competition. Other organizers have also conveyed their respect for the antifascist organizers, but in the end stated that “we would like them to go away…” as it only makes the environment more overwhelming for the children.
Assembling to voice dissatisfaction with the government, private companies, or an unfair practice is generally seen as valid by the public – depending on the majority attitude toward the entity being protested against. But these children do not have power over the Proud Boys, or anyone in society for that matter. “The trans and gender-questioning kids are the most bullied kids in any school,” Rozanski stated. When does protest cross the line and turn into harassment?
The Colorado Proud Boys are clever in their targeted language. They only criticize the organizers, not directly addressing the children themselves. If they were to attack the children, they would have been asked to leave. But in claiming that the organizers and “institution” are the ones they have issue with, they have portrayed themselves as “concerned citizens” rather than “jerks who hate LGBT kids.” No matter how they frame it, it’s easy to see that they are truly the latter.
I think this is a really good point to bring up. Obviously preserving the right of the public to peaceably assemble is important, but like you said, there’s no way this can be read as concerned citizens just voicing their opinion. Unfortunately, I think it’s a difficult line to draw and I know I’m biased on the subject. It makes me think of the videos we watched in class a few weeks ago about the Charlottesville protests and the words of the Nazis. I was horrified that anyone could agree with their words, but that’s not the universal belief. I think the involvement of children make it easier to say that these protests are uncalled for, but how do we decide what is too far and what is still okay under the First Amendment?