WATERVILLE  — More than 100 people gathered outside a Main Street bookstore Saturday morning to support a reading for children by a drag queen, and to counter those who had come out against the event.

About 50 people were packed inside the Children’s Book Cellar, where Ophelia, a drag queen from Topsham, read from two books about inclusion. Valerie Honeywell, who was initially scheduled to do the reading, couldn’t make Saturday’s event. Outside, the crowd waved LGBTQ flags and carried signs.

Across the street, a much smaller group calling itself An End to Child Indoctrination at the Cellar Bookstore, said their message was not about hating anyone, but about sparing young children from the confusion of adult gender identity. They, too, displayed signs that included “Don’t drag children’s innocence into the mud.”

Jessica Gorton of Readfield said she brought her 8-year-old son to the reading to show him that each person is unique and to accept people’s differences.

“I think it’s important to support diversity – diversity of thought, diversity of how people present themselves,” she said following the reading. “I think it’s a wonderful idea to expose children to different ways of being and different expressions. It’s good to normalize it. There’s nothing that was not normal about what we just experienced.”

The reading was organized as part of the 2019 Central Maine Pride Festival and was intended to promote diversity and educating people about the LGBTQ community, said Ellen Richmond, owner of the children’s bookstore. The event had been in the works since before the Waterville City Council voted last month to pass a resolution declaring June 2 Central Maine Pride Day.

But outrage blew up on social media after the event was announced, including a negative post and comments by Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro and comments on the Facebook page Maine Conservative Grassroots. Critics of the drag queen event said their message wasn’t anti-gay – event supporters countered that it was.

Waterville police officers watched the scene unfold as the sidewalk in front of the book store. There were no disturbances. Cars and trucks tooted their horns going by, with the crowd not knowing if the toots were for “for us or them.”

One woman, Nyssa Damon, held up a colorful sign that read “God save the queens,” which seemed to sum up the event for supporters of the reading. Others wore shirts and carried signs saying they were queer and proud.

Elizabeth Leonard, of Waterville, who helped organize the pro-reading demonstration, said it was to support the store and its owner.

“I feel that there is no reasoning with that way of thinking,” she said of the protesters. “All I want to do is stand here and show how much love there is for inclusion and diversity and the store.”

Mark Wilson, pastor of the Waterville United Church of Christ, First Congregational Church, was another reading supporter who attended Saturday.

“I’m here to stand on the side of love, and I’m supporting Ellen and what she’s doing,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing.”

Josh Laury, one of those protesting the reading, said the concept of the event was wrong from the beginning.

“I find it wrong and immoral to bring little kids and to bring them into such a situation where little kids are exposed to what is considered sexuality,” he said. “They’re too young to be knowing that is going on. The whole LGBTQ thing are pushing their narrative way too much, and somebody’s got to push back once in a while.”

Tom Kawczynski, the former town manager of Jackman who was fired in January 2018 following an uproar over his calling for people of different races to “voluntarily separate,” also was on hand Saturday with a sign that said “What a drag to exploit children.”

“I am here because I do not believe that children should be sexualized,” he said. “I believe the drag queen story hour is bringing inappropriate sexual behavior to children who are too young to understand what they are hearing. This isn’t about gays today. Gays have the right to do whatever they want.”

Justin Lamport of Waterville supported the reading, and brought his two children, 10 and 6.

“I’m here to get my kids inspired to read books,” he said. “I want to get them out, show them a little diversity – everybody is created equal.”

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