Cancelling events such as drag storytime because of threats from far right groups only emboldens opposition to them, an extremism expert who has advised Victorian councils has warned.
About 100 representatives from councils across the state came together on Thursday to discuss the rising levels of disruptive behaviour directed at meetings and LGBTQ+ events such as drag storytime.
This week anti-LGBTQ+ activists began a petition to have Friday night’s pride formal on the Mornington Peninsula cancelled. It received more than 50 signatures before being taken offline.
At least 11 LGBTQ+ events have been cancelled in the past six months.
Josh Roose, a political sociologist at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, addressed councillors on Thursday, warning that cancelling events has emboldened the opponents.
“Each time an event is shut down it is exploited online by the far right as a victory,” Roose told Guardian Australia.
“By cancelling the events there’s the risk of rewarding incredibly bad … behaviour.”
But he said they needed to take the threats seriously, so were “stuck between a rock and a hard place”.
“That’s why councils need to work together, and not be picked off one by one. They need to have much more of a united voice.”
The mayor of Hume, Joseph Haweil, said his council had experienced harassment from one of the key groups involved for over a year now. He said councils were being targeted because of their proximity to communities.
“People can come anytime and make representations to us. Most of our mobile phone numbers are on public websites,” he said.
It’s understood councillors also discussed how the state government could help, including by moving quickly on expanding the anti-vilification laws to include the LGBTQ+ community.
In a statement, Victoria police said their role has been to provide intelligence to councils and libraries about safety and any risks associated with their planned events.
“The decision to cancel, postpone or change an event is ultimately made by the event organiser,” a spokesperson said.
On Wednesday about 100 protesters – including a man who performed the Nazi salute – picketed a drag storytime event in Perth.
Protesters also attended a speech by non-binary drag perfumer Kitty Obsidian in Hume and a drag storytime event held outside Eltham library by LGBTQ+ community group the Rainbow Angels was picketed by about 40 anti-LGBT+ protesters.
Earlier this month, the state government also held a CEO forum with councils and Victoria police to address the disruptions.
A spokesperson said while public debate is fundamental to democracy, there is never room in Victoria for hate speech.