This article needs to be updated.(October 2022)
|Drag Queen Story Hour|
Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH), Drag Queen Storytime, Drag Story Time, and Drag Story Hour are children's events first started in 2015 by author and activist Michelle Tea in San Francisco with the goals of promoting reading and diversity. The events, usually geared for children aged 3–11, are hosted by drag queens who read children’s books, and engage in other learning activities in public libraries.
Jonathan Hamilt, who co-founded the New York chapter as a nonprofit, said that as of June 2019, DSH has 35 U.S. and five international chapters. The program strives to "capture the imagination and play of gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models".
Drag Story Hour events have caused public debate over the suitability of drag for child audiences. Critics say it contributes to the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children; proponents argue that these complaints amount to a "moral panic" and anti-LGBT prejudice spurred on by right-wing misinformation. The backlash against such events has been responsible for the popularization of the term "drag panic", modelled after the older term "gay panic".
Drag Story Hour was started in 2015 in San Francisco by author Michelle Tea, who was also the executive director of nonprofit Radar Productions at the time; the first events were organized by Juliàn Delgado Lopera and Virgie Tovar. Tea, who identifies as queer, came up with the idea after attending children's library events with her newborn son and finding them welcoming but heteronormative. She imagined an event that was more inclusive and affirming to LGBTQ families. The first event was held at the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library in the LGBT Castro neighborhood of San Francisco and featured drag queens and was well received. Other early DSH events in San Francisco featured several drag queens of color, including Honey Mahogany, Yves St. Croissant, and Panda Dulce. As of February 2020, there are 50+ official chapters of DSH, spread internationally, as well as other drag artists holding reading events at libraries, schools, bookstores, and museums. In October 2022, the nonprofit organization officially changed its name to Drag Story Hour, to be more inclusive and "reflect the diverse cast of storytellers."
In 2017 the New York chapter incorporated as a non-profit and has received funds from the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and two city council members. The funds buy books, some DSH events do book giveaways, go for paying the queens, and training to ensure the queens "talk effectively to children and their parents about gender identity and drag."
In 2017 and 2018, the organization had a convicted child sex offender perform in the Houston Public Library. The library had failed to do the background check that is part of its usual process for storytellers. The library apologized and recognized its shortcoming in not properly vetting the performer in question.
The books read include children's classics and works featuring LGBT characters and issues. One popular book at DSH is This Day in June, written by Gayle Pitman and illustrated by Kristyna Litten, which introduces the reader to the idea of an LGBTQ pride parade. Pitman also authored Sewing the Rainbow, about rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker, she is also on faculty at Sacramento City College teaching psychology and women and gender studies. She feels it important to teach LGBTQ kids, including children in LGBTQ families, about subjects outside two tropes she's seen: gay and lesbian parents; and gender non-conforming children, like in 10,000 Dresses. Pitman feels that children are smarter than given credit for, and can understand complex issues like intersex identities, if the explanation is simplified.
In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which had accompanying "shelter in place" and "avoid group gatherings" orders, DSHs were among events postponed. Nina West and other drag queens started live-streaming readings. West authored the children’s album Drag Is Magic, featuring RED: A Crayon Story by Michael Hall as the first book of the online series. RED is about "a crayon who suffers an identity crisis when he is labeled wrong."
DSH events have met with opposition towards the drag queens and the books being read. An event organizer and performer noted: "Just like an actor can do an R-rated movie and a G-rated kids’ movie, we have different levels of how we entertain and how we can put on our character as well." Some right-wing publications have also published misinformation about the events and the content of the readings, such as when Conservative Fighters falsely accused Xochi Mochi of reading from a "sexually explicit" book.
"[Drag queens] are incredibly talented, and they are trying to live their lives, and in the process, brighten the lives of those around them. That’s the message parents should be communicating to their kids, at any age. It’s all about acceptance and being loved for who you are."
In a May 2019 First Things article and a subsequent debate with David A. French, Sohrab Ahmari argued that drag queen story hours presented a challenge to proponents of "conservative liberalism" who emphasized personal autonomy and opposed "the use of the public power to advance the common good, including in the realm of public morality". Steven Greenhut responded in a Whittier Daily News editorial that, although he perceived the story hours to be "bizarre and agenda driven", banning them would be an overreach of governmental power and an attempt to legislate morality. In August 2019, a petition by LifeSiteNews and Personhood Alliance, both pro-life activism groups, asked the American Library Association (ALA) to stop promoting the story hours; it gathered nearly 100,000 signatures. The ALA responded by affirming its support for DSH events, stating that it "strongly opposes any effort to limit access to information, ideas and programmes that patrons wish to explore" and "includes a commitment to combating marginalisation and underrepresentation within the communities served by libraries through increased understanding of the effects of historical exclusion."
According to progressive news website ThinkProgress, "it has been a common tactic among the far right to disrupt DSH". In June 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that "white nationalist and former U.S. Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen had announced on June 19 a plan he called 'PROJECT DOX TRANNY STORYTIME.'" Nehlen urged followers to gather photos and vehicle license plates of DSH participants for doxing, the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting private or identifying information (especially personally identifying information) about an individual. The SPLC reported that events such as DSH were "a big draw for far-right extremists". In April 2019, two members of the white nationalist group American Identity Movement (formerly Identity Evropa) dressed as clowns and disrupted a DSH in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Drag for children
Nina West, RuPaul’s Drag Race season eleven contestant and winner of Miss Congeniality, and producer of Drag Is Magic, an EP of kids music about the art form, says she hopes to inspire them to "dream big, be kind, and be their perfect selves." West feels drag is "an opportunity for children to get creative and think outside the boxes us silly adults have crafted for them." Marti Gould Cummings said something similar when a video of them performing "Baby Shark" at a drag brunch went viral. "Anyone who thinks drag isn’t for children is wrong" said Cummings, "Drag is expression, and children are such judgment-free beings; they don’t really care what you’re wearing, just what you’re performing." As of May 2019, the video has been viewed over 806,000 times.
West has responded to critics who question if children are too young to experience drag, saying, "Drag is an opportunity for anyone – including and especially children – to reconsider the masks we are all forced to wear daily." West added, "Children are inundated with implicit imagery from media about what is 'boy' and what is 'girl.' And I believe that almost all kids are really less concerned about playing with a toy that's supposedly aligned to their gender, and more concerned with playing with toys that speak to them."
The New York Times noted "Laura Edwards-Leeper, a clinical psychologist in Oregon who works with queer and trans kids, said that experimenting with gender expression isn't necessarily linked to being queer or trans." and "It's normal at basically any age for boys to dress up as princesses and girls in male superhero outfits". She argues that what changed is parenting: "When there's no judgment, kids are more likely to feel free to explore".
Such events (similar to those in the United States) have been proposed in Australia, but have been met with controversy.
In January 2020, an event was held in Brisbane at the Brisbane Square Library, but was met with a protest from the University of Queensland Liberal National Club (which was disendorsed by the Liberal National Party (LNP) a month earlier). A day after the protest, one of the club's members, who was openly gay, died after participating in the protest, possibly committing suicide. Another event took place in the Melbourne suburb of Werribee, but was also met with protests.
Events were not held for most of 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February 2023, such an event took place at Manly Library in Sydney, but was guarded by police due to protests and even a reported bomb threat. The event was attended by a local Greens councillor and her son. An event also took place in Launceston, Tasmania, but was met with protests and criticism. Critics included the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and the Liberal Party, with the state's Deputy Premier Michael Ferguson criticising the event for being inappropriate.
In May 2023, the Monash City Council in Melbourne planned to hold such an event to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. However, this was met with several protests and counter-protests at council meetings. The first protest was attended by parents and other adults, as well as by United Australia Party Senator Ralph Babet and Rebel News Australia reporter Avi Yemini. A second protest was held, but this time saw council staff abused and the attendance of neo-Nazis. This caused the council to cancel the event, which it said was a "disappointing" decision, but they "had no choice" but to do so. The event was supposed to take place at Oakleigh Library.
According to The New York Times on December 20, 2022, drag story hour events "have drawn an increasing number of protests and threats across the country in recent years, including a series of tense demonstrations in New York, a city known for its inclusivity, over the last month." There is a New York City-based nonprofit organization named Drag Story Hour that has operated nationally since 2015.
A 2023 report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) that examined "incidents of anti-drag protests, online and offline threats, and violence" found 100 incidents targeting drag queen story hours between June 1, 2022, to May 20, 2023.: 4, 8 During the time period studied, the ISD report found Proud Boys, White Lives Matter, Blood Tribe, Protect Texas Kids, and Guardians of Divinity groups involved in various incidents targeted at Drag Queen Story Hour events.: 9–11
In New York City, incidents include reported vandalism in December 2022 by protesters at the office building and home apartment building of New York City Council member Erik Bottcher, who is a supporter of Drag Story Hour events, after he attended a DSH event two days prior at a New York City Public Library with protesters and counterprotesters outside. In 2023, New York City councilmembers Crystal Hudson and Shekar Krishnan also reported harassment and intimidation from opponents of Drag Story Hour after the councilmembers expressed opposition to the protests against DSH.
DQSH was banned in Tennessee, but the ban was blocked by a federal judge. As of 2023[update], bans are being considered in Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma and Utah. In 2022, legislation was proposed in Texas to ban the attendance of minors at Drag Queen Story Hours.
Bans on DSH have been proposed and enacted in several jurisdictions.
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