Violent protests erupted on the steps of Tate Britain in London on Saturday (11 February) as trans-rights campaigners clashed with right-wing demonstrators over a drag queen storytelling event. For most of the day, police officers had to form a corridor so visitors could get into the venue, which remained open.
The action was sparked by the appearance of Aida H Dee, the drag alias of Sab Samuel, who appeared at the London museum as part of LGBTQ History Month in the UK. Aida hosted three storytelling sessions on Saturday at 11am, noon and 2pm.
Members of the political groups Stand up to Racism and Unite Against Fascism had gathered outside Tate Britain by 10am. The atmosphere became tense however when two individuals wearing t-shirts stating “Groom Dogs, Not Children” disrupted the demonstration, resulting in altercations and police intervention. Trans-rights protestors chanted throughout: “What are you so afraid of, it’s only wigs and make-up!”
Sky News reports that the nationalist organisation Patriotic Alternative led the right-wing demonstration, comprising around 30 people. An anonymous member of an anti-fascist group said that the “far-right protestors are made up of various factions including anti-vaxxers and fundamentalist Christian groups”. According to The Guardian, one person was arrested on suspicion of making a racially aggravated comment towards a police officer outside the Millbank gallery.
The Art Newspaper understands that a group of right-wing protestors entered Tate Britain and tried to stop the storytelling sessions. Aida tweeted: “Five haters made it into the Tate. They caused a disruption. But not to Drag Story Hour UK … They made a fuss elsewhere in the building, not where the show was!! SHOW 2 went swimmingly!!!”
Samuel is a member of Drag Queen Story Hour UK, a group that organises storytelling and reading sessions run by drag queens for children aged between three and 11 years old. On its website, Tate describes Aida as an "ADHD, neurodivergent, queer hero of literature" and "the first drag artist in Europe to read stories to children in a nursery".
A group called Art Not Propaganda subsequently launched a petition demanding Tate stop advocating "gender ideology" to children. The row was further fuelled by the Conservative Party life peer Emma Nicholson who described the planned appearance by Aida H Dee as "propaganda" in an open letter. She went on to equate drag queens with "murderers, paedophiles [and] terrorists”.
In an open letter (23 January) addressed to Nicholson, Roland Rudd, the chair of Tate trustees, says that “Tate is open to all. By virtue of this, there will be some programmes which appeal to some visitors and some that do not."