WATERVILLE — Backlash over an event featuring a drag queen reading to children at a local bookstore has drawn some patrons of the store and local residents to organize a counterprotest in support of the Children’s Book Cellar.

Ellen Richmond, owner of the Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, in her shop Monday, said she wants “to educate people about other lifestyles.” Chuck Locke, whose drag name is Valerie Honeywell, will read there during the Waterville Pride celebration on June 1. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“I just thought if they’re going to speak their minds, we should be there to demonstrate our support and not let them capture all the attention,” said Waterville resident Elizabeth Leonard, who set up a Facebook page calling for a counterprotest after reading about the protest planned against the store’s Drag Queen Story Hour in the Morning Sentinel. “I think there’s massive support for the store and for LGBT pride, but we need to express it.”

Leonard’s event, “Support the Children’s Book Cellar, a welcoming place!” is planned for 10:45 a.m. June 1 at the Children’s Book Cellar on Main Street.

A protest, called An End to Child Indoctrination at the Cellar Bookstore, is planned for 10 a.m. June 1 and was organized by opponents of the event.

On Monday, Ellen Richmond, owner of the children’s bookstore, said outrage over the event blew up on social media, including a post and comments by Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro against the event and a thread of comments on the Facebook page Maine Conservative Grassroots.

The Drag Queen Story Hour, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. June 1, is billed as featuring a story hour with drag queen Valerie Honeywell, followed by an arts and crafts activity.

Richmond said she organized the event as part of the 2019 Central Maine Pride Festival as a way of embracing diversity and inclusion at the store. She was inspired by a booksellers’ conference she attended where the concept of a drag queen story hour was talked about and modeled.

“I’m not going to back down, because I know I’m right,” she said.

Richmond said she was continuing to receive some negative feedback about the event Tuesday, but it was outpaced by support for the store.

“Lots of people have said to me, ‘We’re proud of you’ and ‘Thank you’ and ‘Stay the course,'” she said. “I said I’m not going to change my plans for some outspoken haters.”

Leonard said she has notified the Waterville Police Department about the event and plans to get a permit for the counterprotest.

“To me the best way to respond to speech I disagree with is to express myself in a peaceful, respectful way,” Leonard said. “I feel strongly this is a lovely event and a wonderful store, and we should support the store, the owner and the LGBT community in our midst.”

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