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Protestors rally as drag story time for children overturned

George Al-Akiki
George Al-Akiki
George Al-Akiki is a junior multimedia journalist at The Catholic Weekly.
Councillor Steve Christou stands with protestors after his motion to ban drag story reading time in Cumberland for children is passed. Photo: George Al-Akiki
Councillor Steve Christou stands with protestors after his motion to ban drag story reading time in Cumberland for children is passed. Photo: George Al-Akiki

“Drag Queen Story Time” won’t go ahead at Cumberland City Council after over 300 angry members of different faith communities rallied together at a heated council meeting on 28 February. 

Loud and demanding protestors from Catholic, Orthodox, Maronite and other Christian denominations, along with a small contingent of Muslims, flooded the council chambers to express their support for a motion by Cumberland councillor Steve Christou, to prohibit drag queens reading to children in local council facilities. 

The public gallery was well over capacity more than 20 minutes before proceedings were expected to begin at 5.30pm, with Christou’s supporters overflowing into the council foyer and onto the streets. 

Wearing “Leave the kids alone” and “Stay away from our children” shirts, carrying placards and chanting slogans through a megaphone, a riled-up element in the crowd caused continuous stoppages in the meeting. 

One distinct activist among the rowdy crowd was Smokin Joe Mikhael, who describes himself on his Facebook page as “the most electrifying man in dance music.”   

“That’s another win for rational people, that’s another win for normal people” he said over the megaphone as councillors concluded the discussions and the public gallery emptied. 

“That’s another win for anybody with two brain cells and common sense.” 

But the majority of the impassioned protesters were well behaved, with some mothers bringing their children in hopes of having their disagreement heard. 

Christou had previously tried to push the motion through on 21 February, to block drag queen events being held on the recommendation of Local Government NSW, which encouraged councils in November 2023 to host more LGBT events.  

Councillor Christou insisted during the 21 February meeting that reading programs in council libraries already exist, and council staff are appointed to read to children without the need for external paid services. 

He condemned the Labor-majority council when his motion was defeated on the casting vote of Cumberland Mayor Lisa Lake, saying the other councillors had failed to protect the children of the diverse religious community they represent. 

The discussion was adjourned until 28 February, and in the meantime Christou appealed to the community on social media to make their feelings known. 

St Joachim’s Lidcombe parish priest Fr Epeli Qimaqima attended the resumed meeting after seeing a video from Cumberland councillor Joseph Rahme, a Catholic, who seconded Christou’s original motion. 

“I wanted to represent the children in the parish and the children who go to the schools here who have access to all these public places in the Cumberland area,” Fr Epeli told The Catholic Weekly. 

“I felt it was important one of us priests were present there to support the Catholics and other members of the council trying to do the right thing, and provide a more balanced approach to serving people in their best capacity.” 

Fr Epeli stressed that Catholics need to maintain the balance between upholding their beliefs and professing them in a respectful manner. 

He was concerned that, with passions running high, the mayor would adjourn the meeting. 

“The first requirement is that basic human respect, because we meet as human beings first,” Fr Epeli said. 

“As I listened to the debates going on it occurred to me that we Catholics need to learn and find ways to explain articulately and intelligently what the world needs to hear about the good, the holiness and dignity of the human person. 

“It would be very helpful for us to understand that when engaging in a public forum, we need to be firm in our stance without watering anything down, but at the same time respectful of the way we communicate that stance. 

“The way we behave when we do processions, with sensibility and measure, is I think a good example that we should continue in all of our interactions, regardless of the public space. 

“Behaving and acting in these ways that are expected of us shows the dignity that the Catholic faith upholds.” 

Around a dozen protesters from the LGBT community left almost immediately upon arriving. 

Opposition to Christou’s original motion on 21 February was raised by Jessica Duffy, a “transmasculine non-binary person” and drag performer. 

Duffy delivered an impassioned plea to council in favour of LGBT events in Cumberland Council. 

“[Christou’s] motion is a blatant display of the disregard these councillors have for the LGBT community, queer art and the issues we face, even in their own wards of council,” Duffy said. 

“It sexualises the queer community and calls us inappropriate for children, when we decide to share our historic forms of art with the wider community. 

“In the 10 years since I first came out, not once have I ever felt supported by this council in my sexuality.  

“At its core, this motion is about homophobia and the suppression of queerness in this local council area.”  

Christou told The Catholic Weekly after his motion succeeded that the people of Cumberland council, “are not going to accept this in our community.” 

“The people have spoken. Whether you’re Catholic, Orthodox, Islamic, Hindu or what your background is, it doesn’t matter. 

“This decision represents proud, family-orientated people of this community who deeply believe in their faith.” 

Protestor Emileo Chlela, who came to the protest straight from his worksite, agreed that it was “a big win for this community.” 

“It accurately portrays what we value,” he told The Catholic Weekly. 

“People want to be able to conduct their families and children with the values of faith and Christian morals, and any other decision would not have been indicative of that. 

“Our faith unites this community and all the people that have come out shows exactly that.” 

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