On Tuesday, Pickle the Drag Queen filed an incident report with the San Fernando Police Department (SFPD). The well-known personality and storyteller was invited by LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath to lead a free storytime and read books aloud at the county library in the City of San Fernando but was met by a frenzied group of about 70 conservative demonstrators acting like an unruly mob.
They held gates closed, blockading entrances leading to the San Fernando Library, and shouted insults at anyone in their sphere who they believed may have been supporters of the scheduled event, calling them “pedophiles,” “perverts” and “groomers.”
Without a designated perimeter that is commonly set up by police as a protest area, demonstrators flooded into the Library Plaza and took over the space – raising so much concern for safety that library staff locked their doors.
Library Plaza shopkeepers and employees were impeded from entering their businesses. One frustrated business tenant attempting to move chairs from blocking the pathway to her business was accused of hitting a protester with a chair and police detained her. She was told she had to apologize to avoid arrest.
For Pickle and other observers, it appeared the protestors had free reign to disrupt and ultimately shut the event down.
“What happened was a violation of my civil rights. What happened was illegal, and there needs to be a path to justice,” said Pickle. “I think a lot of the conversations … have been all about moving forward and ‘how can we prevent this?’, but there is no moving forward until this situation that already happened has been brought to justice.”
Since the event, video and livestream footage has surfaced showing protestors illegally blocking entrances to the Library Plaza without any repercussions.
ACLU Weighs In
“There were constitutional rights that they [the police] had an obligation to protect and they didn’t do that. And that’s a big failing,” said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU of Southern California.
“If you want to protest, do it,” said Eliasberg. “But you’re not protesting when you’re blocking the building. You’re engaging in illegal behavior.”
“The person who was to do story hour had a constitutional right and a legal right to enter that library and do what I understand she was contracted to do,” said Eliasberg.
Who’s in Charge?
Although San Fernando Police Chief Fabian Valdez was at Library Plaza and witnessed the activity firsthand, when asked why he wasn’t intervening when the demonstrators became more aggressive, he acquiesced saying that Lt. Pete Aguirre was in charge.
“Anything that falls under the police department’s purview [at that event] would be my responsibility,” Aguirre would later tell the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol on Oct. 31.
Aguirre said the SFPD first received information about the protest from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Ten officers from SFPD and two county sheriffs were present at the event. The two county sheriffs were in plain clothes and positioned inside the library, conceivably to offer security to Horvath, Pickle and those in the audience.
While Aguirre said that the SFPD had ample amount of time to adequately prepare for the protest, he also acknowledged that protestors were able to illegally impede pedestrian traffic and a pathway into the library.
“Being that the crowd condensed in one area, it just made it impossible for anyone to get in and out for that period of time. And for a moment they were closing gates and things like that. We asked them to make sure those were open for public safety. So obviously we got those back open, but ultimately they were able to impede all of the entrances ahead of Pickle’s entry, so they weren’t able to actually get inside,” admitted Aguirre.
Officers gave a dispersal warning claiming arrests would be made, which was ignored by the protestors and never acted upon by the police.
SFPD said they protected Pickle throughout the incident, encircling her and creating a barrier between the protesters.
While officials for the City of San Fernando haven’t responded to requests for on-the-record interviews, they have emphasized that no one was physically harmed and there was no property damage.
In the end, a decision was made by Horvath’s office that the event simply could not take place due to safety concerns and access issues.
“The government needs to take steps to ensure that people’s First Amendment rights are protected. And that doesn’t mean that it yields to an angry mob who doesn’t care what the law is and doesn’t mind violating it,” said Eliasberg. “The police should have done more. There are a variety of things they could have done.”
According to a statement released by the City of San Fernando on Sunday, Oct. 29, “The San Fernando Police Department did detain multiple individuals for threatening conduct; however, the persons involved chose not to press charges, with the exception of one incident, which is currently under investigation.”
Post-incident, protestors uploaded videos and statements in favor of the SFPD, rejoicing that the event was shut down. While conservative protestor groups have disrupted Pickle’s Story Hour in the past in Sherman Oaks, this was the first time a group of protestors as they noted had accomplished this feat.
“Shout out to San Fernando PD,” said Alyssa Sonora, an organizer of the protest and co-founder of the San Fernando Valley Alliance community action group, on a livestream. “San Fernando PD new Lieutenant Pete Aguirre, my respect homie.”
An Oct. 29 statement released by the city places responsibility on the county and Horvath’s office for bringing the event to San Fernando.
“While the event was not hosted, funded, nor coordinated by the City, the San Fernando Police Department was called upon as tensions ran high and there were genuine concerns for public safety.”
Horvath’s office said there was ample support and enthusiasm from San Fernando’s city officials who were aware of the event, yet no city official was present at Library Plaza on the day of the scheduled event.
As a result of this incident, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, Horvath’s office is bringing a motion to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The motion shared by Horvath’s office was described to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol to increase community safety for LGBTQ+ individuals and LGBTQ+ public programming and spaces.
“The motion will work with community partners, law enforcement, and key stakeholders to identify and address the alarming rise in violence targeting LGBTQ+ people in Los Angeles County. In doing so, the motion will ask for reports on hate incidents targeting the community, and it will engage the partners identified above to create safety plans to ensure that all members of the LGBTQ+ are fully protected under the law and that their fundamental rights are upheld in all circumstances.” Horvath’s staff indicated.
In the meantime, Pickle feels she has been standing alone in her pursuit of accountability.
“This has been incredibly traumatic and the pursuit of justice is almost worse than the experience itself,” said Pickle. “I have had such an outpouring of support from the community, from my community, from parents, from teachers, from librarians. … I feel a little abandoned by the institutions.”
She also believes that the protestors committed a hate crime and wants an “investigation into the people that physically blocked the library … there needs to be analysis of the situation from objective legal perspectives about whether or not the police did their job.”
According to CA vs Hate, “A hate incident is a hostile expression or action that may be motivated by bias against another person’s actual or perceived identity.”
Given what transpired, this could be considered a hate incident, but it might not meet the criteria for a hate crime.
The Civil Rights Department of the State of California states, “Under the Ralph Act, California civil law prohibits hate violence and intimidation by threats of violence … It typically requires physical contact or threat of physical contact with a person or their property.”
Videos from the event show protestors inches from Pickle, taunting her calling her a “pervert,” “pedophile” and a “sex offender.”
“That’s just a lie. I was background-checked by the county. I have been background-checked by all of these institutions,” said Pickle, who believes these accusations are just cause for a legal suit.
Protestors maintain that Pickle is trying to indoctrinate their kids because she has posted statements online about wanting drag to be added to school curriculums.
The protestors at Library Plaza have described themselves as a combination of local San Fernando and Northeast Valley “parents and grandparents.” Present were also residents from outside areas including Antelope Valley and members of the right-wing 1776 Patriots group.
“I’m here because I don’t think that children should be indoctrinated without parents’ consent,” said Nancy Florian Pelayo. “If you read Mr. Pickle’s post, he said that he’s trying to add it to the curriculum in schools, and that’s what we’re here to fight against so that it doesn’t go to that extent.”
Pickle acknowledged and stands behind her view that drag should be taught in schools, but only as an age-appropriate curriculum.
“It’s [Drag Story Hour] really about diversity and inclusion and getting kids excited about books,” said Pickle.
One of the books at the library for Pickle to read was titled, “It’s Okay to Be Different,” by bestselling author Todd Parr.
It is unclear if a drag storytime provided by Pickle or anyone else will be rescheduled, but both the city and the supervisor’s office said they are open to future LGBTQ+ events in San Fernando. Police, Horvath’s office and San Fernando city officials have all said they are learning from this event on how to better ensure citizens’ rights and safety.
Pickle said she would happily come back if they wanted her to.
“I’ll offer the [storytelling] program wherever, whenever, any entity wants to present it because that’s my obligation to the organization. It’s my obligation to the public,” said Pickle. “I do it [Drag Story Hour] because I didn’t have it growing up. And if I can give a kid something that I didn’t have, that makes them feel safer to be themselves, then I can sleep better.”
To report a hate crime against a member of the LGBTQ+ community, contact the Anti-Violence Project of the Los Angeles LGBT Center (services are available in English and Spanish) at(323) 993-7673. For other services and support for the LGBTQ+ community, go to https://lalgbtcenter.org.
Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this article.
This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.