We’ve all heard of the drag queen story times that are all the craze in libraries, bookstores, and other community spaces across the nation. Someone of you may have attended one, perhaps with the children in your life, as an introduction to alternative forms of storytelling and teaching of inclusion, respect, and love for all.
Being a librarian myself, this type of programming was something that our library NEEDED to have because of demographics in Santa Ana, California. So after six month of planning with our community partner The Frida Cinema, in February of this 2018, our library hosted our first Drag Queen Storytime that featured two local queens, Isabella Xochitl and Kunda Couture. The event was a fairytale-themed, bilingual performance that welcomed over 200 visitors. Among them, however, was a group of people who were infiltrating the event to sneak photos that would then turn up on their websites and social media attacking our performers, our staff, and our youth. They called our staff ‘perverted’ and said we were ‘corrupting children’ with our program that did nothing but spread love and acceptance of all people.
The ‘protestors’ were part of several religious groups in Orange County (one of the most notoriously conservative areas in the U.S.) who had begun attacks on our event a month prior to the event date. I won’t even acknowledge their name, because they don’t deserve it. Online folks called for individuals to rally together at council meetings and on the day of the event in opposition to this ‘heinous’ and ‘disturbing’ event. Luckily for us, we were able to take enough precautions to still have a successful event, the first of its kind in Orange County. But no other event has occurred since nor are there plans for another since we had some collateral damage that raised some red flags.
This type of behavior is not isolated, unfortunately, Drag Queen storytimes, or story hours, have been experiencing a great deal of pushback—primarily from religious groups that feel their rights to religious freedom have been violated. But let’s call it what it is—homophobia.
The latest case of this is occurring at one of the largest library systems in the nation, Houston Public Library. According to Chron, a group of anti-gay protestors gathered outside of the federal courthouse on Friday to proclaim that they had filed a lawsuit against the Houston Public Library because of their recent city-sponsored Drag Queen Story Hours claiming their freedom of religion has been violated. The event was advertised for patrons of all ages at the Freed-Montrose Neighborhood branch.
The group has been very active in the opposition of marriage equality, gender neutral restrooms, and are now claiming that the City of Houston is recklessly involved in the “LGBT doctrine”. The lawsuit claims that taxpayer dollars should not be used for such activities since it would never host a “man-woman marriage storytelling hour”.
According to HoustonPress, Youth Services Manager Kallie Benes said:
The goal of the program is to instill a sense of love and acceptance in our children and encourage them to be true to themselves.
One of our staff members was presented [this idea] in an outreach program, and so we followed up, and they were looking to host it in the neighborhood.
That’s part of our job — to stay abreast of the needs of our community. When they ask us for programs, we look at how we can meet their needs and make sure they’re satisfied with the services.
While the concepts that exist in libraries are generally inspired by others, Drag Queen Story Hour is a specific event created by Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions. According to their site, “RADAR Productions is a San Francisco-based non-profit that produces literary happenings around the Bay Area and beyond. RADAR gives voice to innovative queer and outsider writers and artists whose work authentically reflects the LGBTQA community’s diverse experiences.”
The American Library Association has fully endorsed these types of programs, in any iteration, as a right to intellectual freedom. They have even curated a collection of resources for individuals seeking to bring Drag Queen Storytimes to their libraries or community spaces.
ALA, through its actions and those of its members, is instrumental in creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive society. This includes a commitment to combating marginalization and underrepresentation within the communities served by libraries through increased understanding of the effects of historical exclusion.
See why I love being a librarian? Because the library IS open!
Your drag queen event doesn’t have to be exactly like a Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH), but the mission behind your efforts toward inclusion are the same.
DQSH captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real.
For a list of Drag Queen Story Hours happening soon, or for information, check out their website.
Let’s continue to spread the love of literacy and creativity through glamorous and fabulous drag queens. I hope you will join the dragvolution by producing, attending, or supporting events of this nature in your community and beyond.