An anti-drag protestor who accused gay men of “indoctrinating children into pedophilia” has been found guilty of a public order offence.
Lance O’Connor, 59, of Plaistow, East London, was one of several anti-LGBTQ+ protesters who attempted to storm a Drag Queen Story Hour event hosted by drag artist Aida H Dee at Tate Britain on 11 February.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard on Monday (7 August), that O’Connor and several others had tried to get into the first-floor gallery of the London museum, where the family friendly event was taking place, and unleashed a string of homophobic and transphobic slurs towards attendees.
He was described by witnesses as being “aggressive and intimidating” towards the crowd by making a series of comments motivated by “hostility relating to sexual orientation and transgender identity”. He was arrested outside of the art museum.
O’Connor denied two counts of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
District judge Neeta Minhas found him guilty of harassment and threatening behaviour towards one of the gallery’s operations managers, Matthew Rowan, but cleared him of similar behaviour towards police liaison officer Anderson de Santis.
Minhas said that the defendant’s words aimed at Rowan went “beyond freedom of expression” and delved into “hate speech”. He will be sentenced on 11 September.
Prosecutor Luke Staton had earlier told the court that O’Connor had become “aggressive” towards staff during the confrontation and began accusing gay men of “indoctrinating children into pedophilia”.
Staton went on: “The crown says the defendant displayed the same behaviour towards members of the public trying to attend that event. At one stage, when a mother and daughter attempted to enter the event room, the defendant said words to the effect of, ‘they are indoctrinating children in there – there’s a man dressed as a woman and he is defending pedophiles’.”
Pro-LGBTQ+ and anti-fascist protesters outside the Drag Queen Story Hour event at Tate Britain. (Getty)
Rowan, who was among the group attempting to stop protesters reaching the event, said that O’Connor began claiming one of his associates “identified as a six-year-old”.
While giving evidence, Rowan described the incident as “quite upsetting”, adding: “To be in my place of work, which should be a safe place for anyone, to have someone who is aggressive and filming me and trying to get a reaction out of me, it was very uncomfortable.”
Rowan, who is gay, said he felt “very uncomfortable” with the claims of “indoctrination” and “grooming” being made by O’Connor and others.
Defence lawyer Sundeep Pankhania told the court that her client “is not anti-trans”, and he disputed some of the comments attributed to him.
He added that O’Connor was protesting because of an alleged link between Aida H Dee and Darren Moore, a drag performer who was convicted of four counts of rape of a boy under 16 as a teenager. Moore died in January 2023.
The February protest, which is believed to have been organised by the nationalist organisation Patriotic Alternative, was met with dozens of anti-fascist and LGBTQ+ counter-protesters led by Stand Up To Racism.