The new football season wasn’t the only thing kicking off in the capital this weekend. The 2023 Edinburgh festival is literally only hours old but already the sloganeering placards are up, the 1000-stickers-for-a-100-quid culture warriors are defacing posters and those on the receiving end are giving interviews – then taking selfies at a safe distance from the protestors to post to their social media feeds.

Welcome to Moral Panic: The Drag Queen Story Time Episode, playing all this month at a world-famous arts festival near you.

The selfie-taker in this case was drag artist Aida H Dee, the stage name of Sabastian Samuel. As his Fringe show prepared for lift off on Thursday at the Assembly Roxy venue, he was met with protests from a group holding signs saying things like ‘Groom dogs not kids’, ‘Educate, don’t mutilate’, ‘Drag is for adults, not children’ and ‘Hey Drag Queens! Leave Our Kids Alone’.

Obviously a Pink Floyd fan that last one.

Mr Samuel is front right in the selfie, beautifully made up and with a Medusa-like red and black hairdo. He’s grinning. A few feet away, and standing behind a metal barricade, are seven protesters with two loudhailers between them plus a bloke carrying a Sainsbury’s bag who might just be out for the messages.

Out of shot are seven bored-looking police officers drafted in to keep order, and a counter demonstration of Aida H Dee supporters holding rainbow-coloured Pride and blue, pink and white Trans flags, and clutching Socialist Worker-branded posters promoting LGBT+ liberation.

“Anti-drag bigots promised 300 protestors at Edinburgh Fringe – only eight turned up,” reported PinkNews, an LGBTQ+-focussed online newspaper which has been following Mr Samuel’s ongoing battles with similar protests in England over the last couple of years.

Meanwhile Mr Samuel released a statement: “Sure, we had a small band of protestors, but in the face of them, we had a rainbow sea of supporters,” he said. “My community – the LGBTQ community – we came out to show Edinburgh that we will not back down to fascism. 

“It proves that love and acceptance aren’t just words; they’re a movement that’s growing by the day … Edinburgh is just as gay as any other place in the world!”

Gayer than most, I’d say. Certainly gayer than – let’s spin the globe and choose a few places at random – Nigeria, Saudia Arabia, Uganda, Malaysia, Russia or Indonesia, countries where LGBTQ people can be variously criminalised, whipped, imprisoned or even put to death.   

The Herald: Aida H Dee with protestors outside her Edinburgh Fringe showAida H Dee with protestors outside her Edinburgh Fringe show (Image: Aida H Dee)

And the cause of the brouhaha? Mr Samuel’s Fringe offering, Drag Queen Story Hour: The Theatrical Experience, running every day at 11am and billing itself as the only LGBT children’s show on the Fringe.

The publicity blurb promises a performance which will “engage and delight” audiences of all ages. One which will take them on “a journey through a magical world filled with colourful characters that will make smiles wrap around faces”. Which will serve up “hilarious antics that will leave everyone in stitches”. The host, meanwhile, is “a drag queen that just cannot remember where she placed her spare wig”.

For Mr Samuel, founder of Drag Queen Story Hour UK, the idea is to use his drag character to entertain children in schools and libraries as a means of celebrating “diversity, inclusivity, and the joy of storytelling.” He’s part of a movement which began in the US in 2015 and now has offshoots around the world. Except in countries which have banned them, such as Hungary and Russia, and the more conservative US states.

For those who object, however, shows like his are placing a traditionally adult form of entertainment in front of an audience which is too young for it and exposing that audience – children – to unwarranted sexualisation.

There’s more. For Spiked, an online publication broadly serving the libertarian right, Drag Queen Story Hours are a “project” which promote “aggressively” the cause of “detaching children from their biological sex … The objective of these sessions is not so much to cultivate a love of reading as it is to promote the dogma of transgenderism.”

And here’s the Daily Mail on the subject. “Some wonder if drag acts are a Trojan Horse through which proponents smuggle into schools more politicised agendas, particularly those of trans rights,” it wrote earlier this year, in a piece which was actually about protests outside a pub in London which was hosting drag acts.

Moral panic, indeed.

Predictably, you don’t have to look far before slurs such as ‘paedophile’ and ‘groomer’ start to be thrown around. One glance at some of the placards which met Mr Samuel last week and you can see they already are.

Writing in quasi-academic online publication The Conversation earlier this year, cultural historian Timothy W Jones of Melbourne’s La Trobe University called out those who deploy such terms and accused them of effectively weaponizing them against LGBTQ+ people – a tactic with a long and ignoble history.  


It’s nonsense to think Drag Queen Story Hour performances would be held in schools and libraries if that were the case and if the performers weren’t deemed appropriate to the age of the audience. But all it needs is a few seconds of shaky smartphone footage showing a young child at the back of a roomful of adults enjoying a drag performance in a pub for doubt and misunderstanding to ensure. For conspiracies to take hold. For prejudice to take root. For someone to shout ‘paedo’ and mean it.

As for the stickers, on July 31 Mr Samuel posted a picture to Twitter – do I really have to call it X, Elon? – showing one of his Edinburgh posters “defaced”, as he put it.

The sticker was placed exactly where Mr Samuel’s noggin should be – so yes, technically the poster was defaced – and uses the London Underground logo but with the words ‘Misogyny Present’ where it should ordinarily say something like, I don’t know, Cockfosters or Barking.

The Herald: One of the defaced postersOne of the defaced posters (Image: Aida H Dee)

Both slogan and image are associated with the group Standing For Women, founded by gender-critical activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, also known as Posie Parker. She opposes trans rights, has declared 2023 the Year of the TERF, and has been criticised for alleged links to the far right and to Christian fundamentalists.

She’s also the person who popularised the term ‘adult human female’ to define a woman. You may recall that screenings of a documentary of the same name by filmmakers Deirdre O’Neill and Mike Wayne have twice been cancelled at Edinburgh University after protests from students who viewed it as an attack on trans people.

The second occasion was in April, at which point First Minister Humza Yousaf was dragged in to comment on the stushie. The film should be shown, he said. “I see that as no conflict with the other stance that I’m very proud of, which is supporting trans rights. That is something that I am unequivocal about … But we should ensure that our universities – and society more generally – are a place where we can have that robust exchange of ideas.”

Good luck with that, H. When words such as ‘paedophile’ and ‘groomer’ are as easy to reach for as ‘fascist’ and ‘bigot’, all you get is shouting. And shouting always attracts a crowd.