Drag Queen Story Hour began in San Francisco in December 2015, with drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores. Started by writer Michelle Tea and the nonprofit queer literary arts organization Radar Productions, Drag Queen Story Hour has spread across the US, as well as to Sweden and Japan. Additionally, there are events not affiliated with Drag Queen Story Hour that involve drag queens reading stories to children.
Remind me: What does “drag queen” mean?
The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, also known as the NLGJA, defines drag as “dressing or acting in a style typically associated with another gender, typically through costume and/or performance.” Drag and its performers can take many forms, the NLGJA explains:
[Drag performers] dress and act in styles typically associated with another gender (drag queen for those portraying women, drag king for those portraying men). Drag is more strongly determined by the nature of the costume and performance than the performer’s gender identity or assigned sex at birth. Some drag performers are transgender. Not synonymous with transgender or cross-dressing.
Often — though not exclusively — drag performers perform in night clubs and gay bars.
So events like Drag Queen Story Hour are just drag queens reading stories to kids in libraries, bookstores, schools, or community centers?
Correct. When interviewed by The New York Times in 2017, drag queen Harmonica Sunbeam was asked what the main difference between story hour and an evening drag show. She said, “I’m sober.”
What is the point or benefits to these programs?
Rachel Aimee, the Drag Queen Story Hour coordinator for New York, told The New York Times said that it made sense to her to pair drag queens with children:
“Children love dressing up and being imaginative in what they wear,” Ms. Aimee said. “They see drag queens as people who are doing the same thing, expressing themselves creatively and having fun with it. Also, kids have a much more fluid understanding of gender than most adults do.”
She quoted one of the young attendants as saying, “Drag queens make story time funner.”
Why do people oppose them?
The Washington Post explained the opposition to drag queen story hour programs in a January 2019 article:
Opponents feel differently, arguing that the events confuse children about gender norms and represent a dangerous new front in advocates’ desire to impose a sweeping pro-gay and transgender ideology.
The national group MassResistance — a “pro-family activist organization” that the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as an anti-LGBT hate group — has made the drag queen story hours a rallying cry, organizing boycotts and filing lawsuits. New protests erupted this month in Colorado, Indiana and Tennessee, and it took litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union to end a ban the public library in Lafayette, La., imposed.
Rich Penkoski, a minister with the Tennessee-based group Warriors for Christ, told The Washington Post that “any culture, any society, that’s loosened up their sexual mores has collapsed… We’re repeating history.”
There have been boycotts and lawsuits?
And protests. In January 2019, a drag queen story hour event in Huntington Woods, Mich., brought out protesters and counter-protesters. The Detroit Free Press reported that the protestors included people protesting for religious reasons. Among the protesters, the Free Press reported, was a man named Steven Zimberg, who handed out a one-page statement that, in part, said:
Any time trusted officials are promoting adult entertainers as role models for our small children, especially where the title, content and goal promotes the ideology of gender fluidity or alternative sexual lifestyles, we must take note… Our public institutions do not teach sex education to 3- and 4-year-olds for a reason. We must ask why our library is taking on such a politically controversial issue – especially when receiving our tax dollars.
The Free Press reported that city officials had said the drag performers had all been volunteers and were not paid.
So the event went on as planned?
It did, and as the Free Press reported, it had the support of Bob Paul, the mayor of Huntington Woods:
Before the protesting began and for a month leading up to the clash — as groups with names like Mass Resistance and Warriors for Christ publicized their intent to disrupt the event in Huntington Woods, known for its large Jewish population — Paul had said that no amount of protesting would stop the library’s Drag Queen Storytime.
“This has proven to be very popular with our residents, and we think that communities have the right to make their own choices on local programming,” Paul said Saturday, before the protest began. In a statement he read to reporters, Paul added:
“Drag Queens are part of society and they deserve the right to be included in society. No harm comes from offering the gift of reading, and we have the added benefit of being able to promote acceptance in a welcoming environment and hopefully decrease anti-LGBTQ bullying.”
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