Brawls erupted during a far-right protest outside Tate Britain on Saturday over the gallery’s Drag Queen Story Hour event for children.
Around 30 protesters led by the white nationalist group, Patriotic Alternative, staged a demonstration outside the London gallery in protest at the story-telling event. Signs carried by members of the group read “groom dogs not children” and “no drag for kids”.
They came head-to-head with counter protesters led by the antifascist group Stand Up To Racism. Police created a corridor outside the entrance to allow attendees, including small children, to access the event.
One person was arrested on suspicion of making a racially aggravated comment towards a police officer.
Five protesters were able to enter the building but did not disrupt the readings.
The drag queen who runs the event, Sab Samuel – whose performs as Aida H Dee and is also a children’s author – told TalkTV on Sunday that the readings had been “completely blown out of proportion” by protesters.
“I think a lot of these people think I'm something that I'm actually not,” he told the programme. “All I want to do is be the role model that I wish I had when I was five years old.
“If I was told that gay was a good word and gay is fine, I wouldn't have gone through the horrendous mental health battle and self-loathing that I had to go through to get to the point I'm at now.”
Tate had defended its programming after Emma Nicholson, a baroness in the House of Lords, wrote to the gallery in January criticising its decision to host the readings, describing drag as “adult sexualised entertainment” and saying the event was propaganda for “queer ideology”.
In response, Tate said: “Events are not programmed either to promote, endorse or reconcile differing points of view on wider political issues. Rather they aim to be inclusive and celebrate the diversity of Tate’s visitors and the community.”
A petition calling on Tate to cancel the event attracted almost 4,000 signatures. The group that organised the petition, Art Not Propaganda, said it did not participate in Saturday’s protest, which it condemned as a "racist, sexist, divisive shouting match". The group criticised the gallery for its handling of the incident, saying the clashes could have been prevented if Tate had listened to concerns.
The gallery has said that “visitors are free to choose with which aspect of our programmes they engage”, and that it “firmly believes others should be given the chance” to decide whether or not to attend events for themselves.
Following the readings, Samuel tweeted that it had been “one proper emotional day” and thanked the counter-protestors for their support.
A spokesperson for Tate said after the event: “Police attended a disturbance outside Tate Britain this morning. The gallery remained open to visitors throughout the day and all events went ahead as planned.”