DERRY, NH – A state rep may have made false, defamatory claims about two drag queens on the public record when he spoke in support of his bill ostensibly designed to protect children at libraries from sexual predators.
During a Feb. 10 hearing for a bill that would require public libraries to do a background check on any employees or volunteers before the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee, Rep. David Love (R-Derry) claimed the impetus for this bill was inappropriate behavior by drag queens who performed in front of children in Nashua and Derry in recent years.
Love told the committee during public testimony that this bill, of which he is the prime sponsor, was inspired by alleged misbehavior at a Drag Story Hour event at the Tupelo Music Hall last June. Michael McMahon, 22, of Danville performed as drag queen persona Clara Divine.
“After looking into it, I discovered that there was no background check done on this individual,” Love said.
Love, who did not attend the event, told committee members that the children there were at risk.
“This individual was dancing with kids, rubbing butts, just really going way too far, and there was never a background check done on him,” Love said.
“None of that was happening,” McMahon told Manchester Ink Link. “I had over 500 people in attendance and they can all vouch that none of those things happened. … Literally, he’s making up something. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Some who attended the event say Love’s characterization of the event is untrue. Derry Town Councilor Jim Morgan, who is a Republican and a gay man, wrote a letter to the committee to call Love’s claims false, saying at no point had McMahon touched a child.
“I find it distasteful that an elected member of the House would blatantly lie to the committee to provide a sense of reason to pass such a flawed bill,” Morgan wrote.
Love is a candidate in the Republican Primary to fill Morgan’s seat on the Town Council. Morgan has decided not to run for reelection.
Derry Town Councilor Joshua Bourdon said he and his wife and children attended the event and said no rubbing of butts or inappropriate behavior took place. He said it was a positive event that celebrated individuality and differences.
“I was disappointed to hear that Rep. Love lied to his peers,” Bourdon said. “Nothing like that was there.”
Tupelo owner Scott Hayward said Clara was on a stage three and a half feet high and never got off the stage and was about 20 feet from the children during the entire performance. After the event, a few kids came up and took pictures with Clara.
“That statement is about as false as it can possibly get,” Hayward said of Love’s description.
He said Clara taught kids about inclusion, respecting yourself and others, love and “everything I raise my kids to believe in.”
Hayward said Love’s comments make it sound like children are in jeopardy when they’re not.
“Maybe David should go to some of these shows, and learn something about love and inclusion,” Hayward said.
During the hearing, Love went on to say that he learned that there was a similar Drag Story Hour in the Nashua Public Library in 2019 and that it was later alleged that “the guy was a convicted sex offender.”
“It’s completely false, obviously,” said Robert Champion, who performs regularly as drag queen Monique Toosoon, and hosted the Drag Story Hour in Nashua Love alluded to.
Champion, 39, of Bow, said he was never accused or convicted of such a crime. Nor is he listed on any sex offender registry.
“I’ve been in the public eye for probably 20 years for being a drag queen, and I have never ever been accused of being a sex offender,” Champion said.
As it happens, Champion had been undergoing extensive background checks at the time of his 2019 Nashua show in order to adopt a son. He passed those checks and he and his partner of 15 years now parent a six-year-old boy.
“Obviously, I’m not a registered sex offender, I wouldn’t have been able to complete the adoption,” Champion said.
Morgan called the allegations slanderous.
“Mr. Love is not immune from civil lawsuit as he publicly demeaned and defamed both performers and by doing so is slander per se,” Morgan said in his letter.
Champion and McMahon both told Manchester Ink Link they are currently seeking legal counsel about the potentially defamatory claims.
“I care a lot about my drag and I like performing for the youth and I like performing for pretty much anyone. I don’t like things like that getting thrown around, messing with what I want to make into a career,” McMahon said.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Love told a reporter he was “told by a couple constituents” about the claim that McMahon was “rubbing butts” with children. When asked for clarity on what exactly that would entail, Love said he wasn’t sure.
As for the claim against Champion, Love said he “hope(s) to god he isn’t a sex offender,” but said he remembers reading about it in a newspaper over two years ago.
“I don’t know if it was a Boston Herald or the Union Leader or what,” Love said. “I’ve done more research on that and haven’t found it.”
Ultimately, Love said he still believes Drag Story Hours are not appropriate for children.
“All things aside, it’s adult entertainment. … I don’t know why we’re going to this extreme, societally-wise. But to me it’s not right,” Love said. “If you want to do it as adult entertainment, have at it. But for kids, leave it alone.”
Champion said there is a difference between adult drag shows and Drag Story Hour events geared toward younger audiences. While adult shows might push the envelope, with “crude” jokes and sexual innuendos, Champion said they censor themselves and tone down their performances when they have children in the audience of their shows.
“I certainly know how to tone it down for an audience of children, or in my case teenagers,” Champion said.
He compares drag queens to clowns and considers himself a sort of standup comedian. He said he tailors his material to his market.
“Honestly, as a parent, I don’t think background checks are a bad thing, but do we need it for a one time event that is completely supervised?” Champion said.
In fact, he said if there was any danger to the children during his 2019 show, he said it would have been more likely from the “haters” who were sending threatening messages to him. He said he was assigned a security detail who chaperoned him the whole time he was on the library premises.
“I volunteered my time to do that. I did that to be an inspiration or a role model for people who may have needed me at the time,” Champion said. “None of the drag queens I work with are bad people, I just don’t seem to get why people think drag queens are criminals or something.”
Hayward said it disgusts him when people try to equate crossdressing with sexual abuse.
“It’s just ridiculous to equate those two things. It’s insane,” Hayward said.
Morgan said Love appears to be motivated by prejudice.
“Perhaps Representative Love would be better served by resigning his office to focus on his past personal issues before trying to make laws that govern people he doesn’t seem to accept,” Morgan told Manchester Ink Link. “As it stands, he’s trafficking in prejudiced myths that all the LGBTQ community members are predators.”
During his testimony, Love shared his personal experiences as a victim of sexual abuse when he was six years old, the trauma from which he said resulted in years of destructive behaviors and substance misuse.
“It was a long time of suffering. A lifetime of suffering,” Long said.
“I’m sorry that he went through the experience that he went through,” Champion offered.
The Derry show was attended by dozens of families in the parking lot of the Tupelo Music Hall. Congressman Chris Pappas attended the start of the event to welcome Clara Divine to the stage, and local news media recorded the event.
“New Hampshire is a welcoming place where everyone should be proud to be themselves. The event in Derry was a family-friendly story hour that brought the community together, and it’s shameful that it’s being used as the reason to introduce this legislation that seeks to stigmatize the LGBTQ+ community,” Pappas said in a statement.
The event was moved to the Tupelo after original plans to hold it at Derry’s Taylor Library were canceled in response to calls for protest.
During Love’s testimony, he appeared to take partial credit for pressuring the library to cancel the event.
“And we did stop it at the Taylor Library in Derry,” Love said. “They decided to not have it. Then they were going to do it in the public park and there was an outrage over that. Then they did it at a private entity.”
In the race for Morgan’s Town Council seat, Love is running against Doug Flood, the founder of Pizzastock, an annual mental health awareness concert in Derry in memory of his son Jason Flood, who died by suicide in 2016.